The Girl and the Goat, Chicago.

October 2013.

I chose this restaurant after going over the Michelin Guide and other references with some care, deciding it was the likeliest in this famously food-oriented town to deliver real satisfaction without scaling the Vatican of haute cuisine. I was reassured that it was hard to reserve many weeks in advance. Hot, no question.

It’s located along Randolph Street in the West Loop, a two-block stretch that some commentator said had the highest culinary IQ in the country. In the event as we got off the bus two blocks south and trudged through the rain we agreed the feel of the neighbourhood was downtown Prince George which not to offend Prince George wasn’t our expectation.

At 5 pm (the only time we could book) we were enthusiastically greeted and shown to a small row table in a big complex room with high ceiling and modern cuisine-centric decor. Neighbouring tables filled quickly. Server was a short-blond-haired girl who spoke and moved hurriedly but who reciprocated conversation rationally and knowledgeably, and who kept her irritation in check dealing with the haggle over what dishes she liked and what looked good to us.

The “Girl” (chef Stephanie Izzard) had the day off server told us, but the Goat was well represented as a roast belly starter and a braised shank. Pig also made the list in a couple of appetizing instantiations including shank. So far so good. Wine was a rioja, fairly-priced.

We had goat belly with roasted vegetables and beet salad done as it is these days in crème fraiche as starters. The beets were tasty and balanced, but it was a precious tiny piece of the goat (although perfectly striped with abdominal wall meat and fat) that we found under the frisse and other garden items. Tasty and crisp but of course lean. We shared a main of pork shank, served on a board. The boiled-down impression was nothing special, the meat straight cooked pork and even bordering on dry.

We faced, leaving at about 6:15 through what had become a thundering competition of high-decibel nasal shouting among a hundred alcohol- and adrenaline-ized young people the familiar high-expectation and not-quite-so-high performance conundrum. The food was good, and interesting. Well but not perfectly prepared, and reasonably-priced. But the feeling and final sentiment was of not having been pleasantly treated, valued, or in reality much noticed. I’m increasingly aware that my restaurant experience is inescapably shaped in part by the other diners nearby, how close to me they are sitting, how loud they talk, how desperately affected they are, and so on.

Reminiscent of another spoiled success, Frances in San Francisco. We wouldn’t bother if there’s ever a next Chicago visit. Ambience 3.9, service 5.1, food 7.9, value … about 4 ½.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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