Thursday, March 24, 2011
It hasn't been a hot time in the old town lately. Work's been tense, I've been sick twice in a month, and in the last 48 hours winter decided it wasn't finished talking yet. I'm looking forward to the start of spring break (in 26 hours).
I got a beautiful early respite yesterday, though, in the form of a knee-weakeningly good meal at Girl & the Goat with my friend Natalie. She made the reservations for us some time ago, and I forgot about it until she mentioned it on Tuesday morning. For the next 24 hours, I pinned all my anxiety and work tension and the itchy feelings* I borrowed from other anxious people and my achy discomfort and my cold bones on the moment when I would get to walk through the door of this legendary restaurant, sit down, drink a calming glass of wine, and have comforting, exciting, thoughtful food lavished upon me. As absurd as it sounds to hang my peace of mind on the success of that moment, that's exactly how it happened.
I got to Randolph with -3 minutes to spare, and found Natalie already sitting by the window and the host ready to seat us. It was our lucky night, and no one had claimed the chef's table, so we got to sit right on the kitchen line and watch everything happen. While chatting up the prep chefs and asking questions about everything.
My calming glass of wine was the house white: Girl & the Goat Columbia Valley Semillon-Viognier. Sweet and rich, but nicely balanced and not like drinking dessert. I warmed up. My shoulders slowly came down from around my ears to a normal shoulder-type level.
Oh, and then we ordered food. I sing a song of dinner, in the order in which it appeared (my staggering accuracy here is the result of a purloined menu):
loompa bread (I didn't think to keep one of the little bread & specials menus, so this one is to the best of my recollection) - artisan bread with cumin and nuts, served with a raisin & nut butter & carrot oil. If you've never had a cold sweet white wine with a mildly spicy bread dipped in carrot oil, I recommend it.
chickpea fritters. romesco. hazelnut hummus. sesame. goat feta. As if this doesn't sounds wonderful enough already, it was sprinkled with a handful of deep fried chickpeas, all golden and crispy and melting the goat feta ever so slightly. Texture extravaganza - hearty foods in delicate forms.
seared scallops. brown butter XO. goat sausage. shiitakes. winter squash. I chose this for the goat sausage and winter squash elements - must have goat. The scallops were perfect - sweet and delicious, and that wonderful scallop tenderness that's so velvety it's almost liquid.
grilled bison butt. sausage vinaigrette. pink lemon. black trumpet. This was Natalie's choice, because "I totally came here to eat the butt of some bison." Our server said "She puts these things on the menu so she can yell 'We got butt! We got pig face!' all night." (Which did happen.) And really, if you had the power to serve pig face and make people want it, why wouldn't you? We didn't order pig face (wood oven roasted pig face. sunny side egg. tamarind. cilantro. potato stix), but we watched carefully to see what it looked like when it came off the line, and Natalie got the giggles pointing out that it had egg on its face. Excellent.
Anyway, back to the bison butt. It was a strong flavor, but gamey is the wrong word for it. I still haven't figured out the right word for it. I could taste the grass and outdoorsness of it. I said, "It tastes so...so..." Natalie said, "Real?". Yes, exactly. It tasted real. Like an animal. I'm not certain that I liked it, but I liked the experience of eating it.
sauteed green beans. fish sauce vinaigrette. cashews. Lately I've been roasting green beans and big chunks of garlic, instead of my usual asparagus; this was the amped-up superhero version of that. I don't know what god you have to sacrifice to in order to find such fat and magnificent green beans during Smarch, but good job. Fish sauce vinaigrette, good job. Cashews, good job. My shoulders were now kind of slumped as I was completely relaxed and propped up on the bar, perusing the wine menu in a lazy fashion.
We had lots of people taking care of us all evening long, but were primarily served by our left-flank server, who recommended dishes and answered questions and took our order, and our right-flank server, who brought us our food. I should have noticed their names, but I didn't. Left suggested the Substance Columbia Valley Merlot to accompany the next dish. It was absolutely the right thing - light and a bit woodsy and really good without being shouty about it. A nice balance to the very rich meats.
goat, pork, and veal sugo. pappardelle. rosemary. ground cherries. According to Joel, the patient and gracious prep chef we got to pester all night, the ground cherries were actually gooseberries. He said they had pickled gooseberries earlier in the year, and that sounds so good that I'm going to have to hunt some down for pickling this summer. They look like tiny orange cherry tomatoes, but are neither sweet nor savory. The flavor is delicate and earthy and juicy and distinctive and not something I feel I can adequately describe. The word yummy was mentioned. Everything we ate was so delicious, and so satisfying, and so genuine, but I think the sugo was my favorite.
By now, I was in a comfort haze. Natalie was eating sugo. I was reading the wine list for pleasure and edification, and watching something crispy come out of the wood oven. Someone came up by my elbow and said, "How is everything, guys?" I thought it was Right Flank checking on us, and sort of shifted my head a bit and said, "Amazing, thank you" but didn't really connect. And that's how I came to accidentally snub the chef. Stephanie Izard, clever hands, wizardish food sense and superstrength hair - who made me feel so pleasant and cared for that I just couldn't even sit all the way up and say hi.
bittersweet chocolate . shiitake gelato . creme fraiche. Dessert also had some kind of golden sauce drizzled on it - maybe an apricot thing? I was too stoned on amazing flavors by then to absorb all the information. The chocolate cake was embellished by crumbled chocolate cookie, and the bittersweet crunchy crumbs in tangy creme fraiche...well, good.
We followed that with coffee, and I begged a couple of slices of caperberry off of Joel. I recognized what they were, but I'd never tasted one, so he gave us a little dish of thin yellow-green, seedy caperberry slices. I tasted it and pronounced it "earth pickle." Natalie promptly requested a new necklace design called earth pickle.
And then I went home, full of good things. We'll just pretend the muzak incident in the cab never happened, and will speak no more about it.
*This is Shana's expression; I think it's brilliant.