something happened yesterday that hasn’t happened since the first day i set foot in the kitchen at girl and the goat earlier this summer. i took the night off. kind of. i say kind of because at 7:15 pm i pushed through the revolving door with my friend heather and entered the restaurant in a new dress, freshly showered, and ready to wait for a table in the lounge with a cocktail in hand… i sat down for dinner at the restaurant last night!
you see, entering the restaurant around 7 o’clock is a pretty common thing for me. i do it practically every day. only, in the morning. so coming in at night? in the middle of service? that was a special moment for me. in the morning it’s quiet and lonely and the most excitement we get is when the doorbell chimes for a delivery. but last night, it was a whole new experience. heather and i pushed through the revolving door and i walked into a room full of energy. people were everywhere. hustle bustle. and the smell! that wood oven really hits you up front, and totally reminded me of a campfire. the whole vibe just felt so warm and inviting—i can’t tell you how comforting that was for me to feel, and i only hope every one of our guests who walks through the door feels the same.
my friends and i sampled practically the entire menu, which of course has led to some adjustments slated on my clipboard today. tasting the food from a diner’s perspective definitely helped me figure out some dishes that could be enhanced even more. and that leads me to the big news of the day here at the restaurant. just a little bit ago, crowded around a laptop at the bar, i read phil vettel’s review of the restaurant in the chicago tribune.
but i wanna back track first. it all started when i walked into the office and found jen with a laptop in her arms, and johnny standing there with a funny look on his face. and i kind of knew something was up. i was nervous, and think i said something like, “you guys read it first.” then jen read the title of the article out loud, which is “stephanie izard: america’s sweet tart,” and i did a total one-eighty. i went with my gut—which was telling me to run upstairs with the computer and find kevin boehm, one of the owners, and read the review with him. to not be afraid. but i was nervous and excited and all sorts of emotions… i mean, it’s been a long time since i’ve been in this position! and when i got upstairs to read the review with kevin? i couldn’t find him! so we propped the laptop on the bar and dove right in.
it didn’t take long for the first wave of goosebumps to hit.
i have to say that though i know phil didn’t write that review for us, he really hit on some things that mean a lot to me personally. i mean, for him to reference writing about me five years ago, and the way i cooked then—that struck a chord. a good chord. in my cooking at the goat, i definitely harken back to some things i did at scylla, and it’s important to me that people get that. phil does. and he also gets the food, like the hiramasa. the dish is built layer upon layer, from the fish itself to the crispy pork belly to the caper berries and so on. i like how he puts it, they’re “tart, sweet, and spicy accents.” he gets the desserts, too. “izard’s desserts are less sugary finales than they are logical extensions of her flavor aesthetic.” i have to thank him for saying this, because i’ve been trying to come up with the right words to describe the desserts to the servers, and now i have them!
and then there’s the vegetables. that he loved those dishes really makes me happy. that dish as it is now was an accident. i first thought of it when i was cooking english peas with my parents in arizona and needed a dish for the cookbook. the dish (with a fish sauce vinaigrette and cashews) was originally a play on edamame. i wanted to use the english peas instead of soy beans. but that didn’t work, and instead of scratching the whole idea, i tried it with green beans. so when phil says “…the sauteed green beans, tossed in a fish-sauce vinaigrette with hints of sambal and dijon mustard, will change your life. i’m thinking wistfully of my next serving already,” i say, that’s really flippin’ awesome.
my dad said his favorite blog post that i’ve written was the last one, in response to david tamarkin’s review for time out chicago. david’s review was the first major review to hit the press. that was a big deal, and i just instinctively found myself at the keyboard writing about it. but i was home that night. right now? i’m in my apron and smell like smoked duck and tomatoes, sitting in the office at the restaurant. and again, instinctively, i’m finding myself in front of the keyboard. i said it with david, and i’ll say it again with phil. i just wanna sit down and chat with the guy! i feel like he’s my dad, understanding my food in a way that only a dad can. maybe that’s sappy, i don’t know—but after i read the review to my sous chef dave, he even said that he just wanted to give the guy a big hug.
the funny part about the whole running upstairs to find kevin thing? he wasn’t up there because he was in his car, on his blackberry, reading the review at the exact same time i was. he came in right when we finished reading and we both just smiled, than gave each other a good squeeze. i can’t even begin to tell you how good that squeeze was for us, the weight and pressure that lifted.
all right, it’s time to get back to work. greg baked a new bread this morning with fish sauce and soy sauce and miso and we’re going through as many heirloom tomatoes and melons as we can to make a sauce for a smoked duck stuffed shrimp we hope to have on the menu well into the fall. and of course, i need to get to those adjustments on some of the dishes i ate last night, too…