By: Jay Doughnuts On: May 25, 2012
As I turned the key on the black and yellow Kryptonite Fuggetaboudit lock securing my garish crimson bicycle to it’s temporary home in the early evening sun on Lawrence Avenue in Lincoln Square, I was alarmed by the sounds of glass bottles clanging together in my backpack. I began to feel the full heft of these bottles of wine and beer that had previously felt remarkably weightless on the 5 mile ride to our Saturday date night at Goosefoot. Perhaps it was the mere anticipation of an evening at this widely acclaimed restaurant and the promise of 8 courses expertly prepared by Chef Chris Nugent, formerly of Les Nomades, that provided me with the energy needed to carry the valuable cargo to its intended destination. Three months of anticipation arrived at once in the pit of my stomach as I opened the door of the restaurant for my wife. Que the butterflies.
We were greeted immediately and rather warmly by the host, Nina who adorably announced that she also just happens to be Chef Nugent’s wife. Nina was exceedingly kind and graceful in a rather bookish way and her greeting and explanation of the menu and the ethos of the restaurant immediately put us at ease. One does not know what kind of atmosphere and vibe to expect when being seated a restaurant that, despite being just 5 months old, was recently awarded Best New Restaurant by Chicago Magazine but we found it to be understated in the most elegant sense of the word. Think stainless steel fixtures from Lightology and minimalist tables and chairs with clean lines that remind one of Room & Board. No grand staircases, lofted ceilings, lilac walls or gilded chandeliers… just a simple and tastefully decorated place in which to enjoy a great meal. How refreshing.
The young and enthusiastic servers dressed in all black were attentive from the outset, perhaps motivated by the selections of beers from New Holland, Clown Shoes and Central Waters that we presented them with upon arrival as a premature token of our gratitude. We find that we usually get along swimmingly with the staff after such a peace offering. Speaking of libations, Goosefoot is a BYOB restaurant with no corkage fee. We sipped a Steigl Radler shandy as we perused the 8 course menu printed on brown seeded paper that can be planted in one’s garden and prepared for a 2 and a half hour culinary journey.
The amuse-bouche came first: a bright and pristine yellow beet served on a spoon with a little goat cheese. A refreshing and light taste to get one prepared for heartier fare.
The first proper dish was a scallop served in an earthy broth with lobster, squash, licorice root and curry. It is rare that one gets to taste a truly memorable scallop dish, but this was just that. A rich almost smoky lobster broth was a fantastic compliment to the buttery scallop.
Next came the soup course which promised to have sunchoke, potato and shrimp. It was served with a bright cloud like white truffle foam on top which really introduced a nice contrast in flavor to the decadent soup. The richness of this soup can not be overstated as it forced one to slow down and contemplate each spoonful as if interpreting meaning in a Whitman poem. This would be the final liquid oriented course of the evening.
We moved on to a delicate fish course featuring loup de mer, which I had previously not tried. It was served with a lemon, leek and tapioca pear preparation that really let the subtle brilliance of the fish shine through. The flavors were light and composed and really came alive when one incorporated the rich green fennel sauce that was served on the side. This was a beautiful dish served at the appropriate point in the eventing and served as trasition into the more meaty offerings.
Roasted quail was the next offering on the tasting menu and it was undoubtedly the highlight of the menu from my perspective. Quail is typically something that I completely ignore when dining around town, but Chef Nugent’s dish has forced me to reconsider this foolish approach. It was served with these marvelous ginger infused lentils that were the ideal spice compliment to the juicy succulent quail. The texture of the quail skin alone provided a marvelous crunch but the meat was exceedingly tender and flavorful. Quail agnostic no longer.
By this point in the night, we were halfway through an ’08 Stags Leap Cab that served as a fantastic compliment to our next course: angus beef tenderloin. When I saw the tenderloin, I immediately thought of the dozens of similar cuts of beef that I have had at weddings over the last 10 years. Cooked expertly to medium rare, and served with heirloom carrots and shallot jus, the most substantial course of the evening was excellent. I couldn’t help feeling that the heirloom carrots stole the show on this dish. Almost as if the beef was there purely to satiate while one marvels and the flavor of these marvelous yet humble carrots.
We were quite full following the beef course and were unsure if we would be able to soldier on after cleaning our first five plates. Fortunately, the cheese course was as light as it was beautiful and featured two rectangular shavings of Pleasant Ridge Reserve served with celery truffle sauce and a crunchy parmesan cracker. The cheese course was quite simply magnificent and was my wife’s favorite of the entire eight-course tasting. It is no longer difficult to find great cheese in this town, but this course embodies everything that one could ever want in a cheese course. A divine cheese served with the crunch of the parmesan cracker and sauces that provide interest yet allow the cheese to shine. Later, my life would unsuccessfully lobby with Nina for a tasting menu that would consist entirely of cheese and chocolate.
Our next dessert was a difficult one to describe even as we were tasting it. It consisted of a marshmallow like puff of coconut served with passion fruit, lime and vanilla crème sauces. This was the most modernist course of the night and the coconut and vanilla flavors really jumped off the plate without the cloying sweetness that often accompanies desserts featuring similar ingredients. This was an appropriate interlude before the other star of the show.
The chocolate course was the last dish of the evening and Chef Nugent may have very well saved the best for last. A novice chocolatier, it is clear that Nugent is extremely passionate about this course and I dare say that this was one of the best chocolate experiences of my life (apologies to Pierre Marcolini, Alex & Alex and Mary which we recently sampled Brussels). The thick crunchy dark chocolate shell surrounds a creamy milk chocolate cream interior that blends wonderfully with the salty sea beans, orange gel and mulled wine. There was a lot of wide eyed staring across the table as we silently contemplated this one. Nugent has a gift for chocolate and I dare say we will all be visiting his upstart chocolate shop in the coming years. A better finish to an 8 course meal I can not imagine (the final chocolate dipped namesake goosefoot berry was a quant but unnecessary touch).
When left to contemplate Nugent’s epic tasting menu and his singular and distinct vision for this restaurant I immediately thought of what Goosefoot was not more than what it was. Goosefoot is a simple unassuming space for a chef to feature pristine expertly cooked food. It is not an homage to the architecture of a mansion in the south of France. It is not a dimly lit cavern featuring craft cocktails. It is not the hot place to strike up an impromptu conversation with the beautiful people and snap photographs. No one will shatter loudly shatter a chocolate dessert on a tablecloth here and theatrically march away. Those looking for the latest Deadmau5 mashup to bob their heads to in their skinny jeans while pawing at pretty food will be sadly disappointed. This is the antithesis of the scenester destination. It is a romantic restaurant that serves marvelous food that facilitates conversation and fun in a completely unpretentious way. I feel like this restaurant brings one back to the very essence of what dining used to be before elaborate themes, cutting edge architecture and dining as theater became the norm in this town. Goosefoot is a throwback to a time and place when all that mattered was fantastic food shared in the company of the people in life that you truly love. How simple and refreshing is that? Nina followed me out of the restaurant as I was unlocking my bike and reflecting on a transcendent meal to return the now empty backpack to its rightful owner… and I felt loved.
|Goosefoot||The Stockyard 10|
|Vibe||Clean bright and understated space that allows food to be the star|
|Crowd||Mid 20s to late 50s proudly opening bottles and sharing laughs and conversation|
|Soundtrack||Relaxed jazz is perfect accompaniment to an 8-course tasting|
|Drinks||BYOB – no corkage fee (beers for the kitchen always appreciated)|
|Cost/person||$90 for 8 courses before tax and tip|
|Revisitability||B+ Open table reservations are scarce- plan ahead!|
|Service||A Extremely knowledgable staff. Helpful but not at all overbearing.|
|Food||A Wonderfully cooked classic dishes and beautiful flavors|
|Highlights||Roasted quail, cheese course, chocolate course|
|Overall||A (Mt. Rushmore status)|