Stephanie Izard's a force in the Chicago culinary scene. Sure, she's the first female chef to win Top Chef. But more importantly, she's staked her culinary claim in the West Loop area of Chicago, which is certainly a dining hot spot. Chef Izard's got Girl and the Goat & Little Goat Diner amidst bastions such as Aviary & Next as well as Publican & Blackbird. And something's clearly going right in her kitchen, because both of her locations are regularly packed.
Case in point - I popped in for an early lunch during a week of conferencing in the city. And Little Goat was stuffed to the brim, whether diners were enjoying themselves al fresco or within. Little Goat is Chef Izard's upscale, yet unpretentious, diner. It features a wide gamut of classics with some culinary twists, many of which were Asian-inspired. I pulled up a seat at the counter, which offered a decent view of the kitchen at work.
Smoked Pork & Toffee Crunch Shake [$7]
I had to start off with this shake, considering my entire dining experience this trip was essentially a gustatory gamut of carnivorous delights. The foundation of smokiness was quite intense, but the sweet and salty elements of the toffee crunch helped to create some balance. There were small chunks of pork interspersed throughout the shake, which was tasty overall, but more gimmick for me than a must-order.
Pork Belly Pancake [$13]
Scallion pancake, house hoisin, bok choy salad, ginger maple dressing
On the other hand, you'd be hard pressed not to find me ordering this must-have dish. I appreciated that the Asian flavors weren't overtly in your face, but I found myself wondering how I wasn't indulging in an elevated Peking duck meal, supplanted with a crisp and hefty portion of pork belly. The gluttonous chew from the scallion pancake was on point and provided a nice textural contrast with the crisp bok choy slaw. The slaw which had just enough acidity to balance out the pork belly which was hidden beneath.
Well-crisped on the outside, it yielded to a trembling and unctuous cut of belly that was absolutely delicious. The ginger maple dressing helped to provide some sweet spice to counter the savory elements, while the fried wonton strips provided additional texture for each bite.
Mac n Cheese [$7]
It's a safe bet that I'll always try the mac n cheese. This iteration featured sharp cheddar melded with creamy Camembert. The well-seasoned marriage lent itself to a creaminess that clung to the al dente shells, topped with crisp and buttery bread crumbs. Nothing wrong here.
Overall, I was impressed with Chef Izard's upscale diner. The menu is large, but considering the long hours it's open and the impressive crowds it pulls in, there's plenty to satiate a wide variety of appetites. The pork belly pancake is certainly a winner and has me salivating for my next trip back to Chicago. Girl & the Goat is now a must for me.