09 August 2011

30/66 Chicago: Part 4

Sorry to sound like a glitched out cyborg (i.e. repetitive), but Hopleaf was yet another venue where everything simply fell into place. Aside from the fact that it was pretty packed, and loud as F, I simply had no complaints.

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I perused their draft list for a few minutes, and then decided I wanted to take it all in before I made my selection, so I asked for the bottle menu. Little did I know I would be handed a text similar in length to the Mahabharata.

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I remembered reading a lot of good things about He’Brew so I finally settled on Bittersweet Lenny’s RIPA which is a rye-based double IPA at 10% abv.

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I was very happy with this beer in that it tasted exactly like Lagunitas Lil Sumpin Sumpin minus the slightly sour aftertaste that prevents me from drinking more than two or three at a time. Considering this brew had 2.5% higher abv, that’s quite an achievement.

At this point I was in the nursing stage, so we just acted a fool and posed for some stupid pictures.

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This picture of Matt will haunt me for the rest of my days:

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Everytime I look at it I can’t help but hear “Heeeere’s Johnny!” It’s like if Jack Torrance and Edgar Allen Poe had a demon man-baby and that man-baby had had one too many and was trying to give you the stink eye from the across the bar.

Quite unsettling.

Matt was drinking Goose Island Sophie which (surprisingly) I really enjoyed. It’s a 6.5% farmhouse/saison with yeasty funk and citrus and herbs. Normally I can’t stand beers like that. Color me impressed. Chicago breweries seem like they know how to please Mr. Micro.

For my next (and final) round I asked our curt but courteous bartender if I could sample two brews before I made my choice. I tried Mikkeller Monk’s Elixir (a 10% abv dark Belgian strong ale from… Belgium) and North Coast Brother Thelonious (a 9% dark Belgian-style strong ale from Fort Bragg, CA). I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw her pouring my goblet before I’d even made my choice. She chose wisely.

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This was one of the rare occasions where I preferred the an actual Belgian beer over a Belgian-style beer. As a whole I find Belgian brews a bit too musty/funky for my liking. ‘Twas not the case here.

I thought it tasted like a caramel apple cider with a fantastic aroma and a thick and creamy head. A touch of yeast, a touch of malt, and a touch of hops made me want to touch myself.
After the re-emergence of our hardcore industrial beatbox duo Kompressor Chicken (myself) and Peg-Leg Pony (Zack) at some point someone must’ve ordered a side of Stilton Mac & Cheese because it magically appeared before me.

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It reluctantly agreed to posing for a picture with our goblets of beer, and then we voraciously ran a train on it’s rich and creamy ladyparts.

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I guess I was feeling it at this point because I took 10 pictures of this goddamned thing.

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Maybe I realized I wouldn’t remember eating it if I didn’t secure pictographic evidence. I'm sure it was rich, cheesy, and delicious, but honestly, I don't remember.

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And with that our time at Hopleaf had come to a close. I purchased my goblet as a souvenir of our lovely times here, and we headed back to M's place to relax and sober up before my big birthday dinner at The Girl & The Goat.

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Ah, how do I begin. Well I will say that the alcohol hadn't fully worn off by the time we arrived for our 9:15pm reservation. Those 10% abv beers stay with you for a while.

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This place was super dark, jam-packed, and loud as hell. My friends voiced complaints about a serious smokiness permeating the air, but I didn't notice it, probably due to my crunkenness. We were sat at a large table directly in front of the famous Girl/Goat mural:

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Here's a picture of Meg and Matt where Matt isn't looking quite so psycho:

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After reading this post about making barrel-aged Manhattans at this very restaurant, I was tickled to see that they were still available. Tickled in the pants.

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Unfortunately, that ridiculous amount of work yielded a Manhattan. Yep, just a Manhattan. Nothing out of the ordinary. You can go to any decent bar and order one exactly like it. The best part was the cherry.

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I wasn't disappointed, it was well made after all, but I felt very sorry for the guys who wasted all of that time and effort (glance over the article, it was a lot) into crafting this thing. So sad. Matt and Zack both ordered the Double Barrel which featured housemade ginger beer that blew my freakin' mind. I knew what my next round would be.

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The order in which our dishes were brought to us was seemingly random. I'll just run through them as they hit our table, then sum up our favorites at the end. Sound good? Great, let us begin.

First up was the Roasted Beets with green beans, white anchovy, and avocado creme fraiche.

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I love beets because they're so earthy. Like taking a bite out of Mother Earth's tender bits. After tasting this, I realized that they definitely don't list all of the ingredients on the menu. Out of our first three dishes this was our least favorite. What made it were the crisp frisee and the fresh horseradish in the dressing.

The second dish was one of the most universally recommended: the Chickpea Fritters with eggplant-tomatillo caponata and mozarella.

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As much as I love chickpeas, this dish was alright, not great. The best part by far were the little fried chickpeas.

The last dish of our first course was the Goat Chorizo Flatbread with ramp pesto, pickled rhubarb, and fresh ricotta.

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I present to you the reigning champion of the first round. This flatbread annihilated the other dishes. It was like if Glass Joe tried to fight Soda Popinski. No contest. Google those names if you don't know who they are. Actually, if you don't know who they are, stop reading my blog. You're not worthy.

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Take the list of ingredients in this dish and imagine the best iteration of each of them that you've ever tasted. Now imagine them all in one bite. I need not say more.

After what seemed like eons later, our second round of dishes arrived. We were more than a bit peeved (we'd already been there an hour and ten minutes before our second course arrived) and I was quickly achieving crunk version 2.0. Boys, let's get to it.

After sending back a second Chorizo Flatbread (in hindsight we should've kept it...) finally our dishes started to arrive. First up we had the Escargot Ravioli with bacon and tamarind-miso sauce.
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Unfortunately this was one of the most disappointing dishes of the night. The tamarind completely overpowered everything else. From the description I thought it might've been the tamarind, but I think it was blood orange or grapefruit. A miss for sure.

Next we had the Smoked Goat Rilette Empanadas with masala and ramp yogurt.

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I honestly don't have a single note about this dish. I'm guessing it was forgettable? Yeah, let's go with that.

Rounding out our second course was the almighty Skewered Lamb Heart with sweetbread crisp, potato aioli, ramps, and strawberry. Holy hell, my tastebuds just got proppa fucked.

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The charrededity bits made me blow a load in my facehole. Take Blackened gamey meats and add cool creamy aioli plus a subtle funky crisp from the sweetbreads and the juicy bittersweet strawberries? My tongue was doing backflips. Not unlike Backflip Studios (there's a plug for ya Zack.) This was another personal favorite of the night.

There was another 30 minute wait between our second and third courses, but at this point I didn't notice because I single-handedly leading the expedition into the forgotten tomb of Sir Shitfaced. Speaking of which I took this opportunity to order a Double Barrel for myself. It was lovely.

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Course three is where The Girl & the Goat finally started justifying it's reputation. First we have Roasted Cauliflower with pickled peppers, pine nuts, and mint.

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I don't think I've ever met a roasted cauliflower I didn't like and this dish was no exception.

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For me, pickled peppers are always a good idea, combined with the crunch of the pine nuts and the mint and it had a sort of pesto flavor profile going on. There was definitely some citrus hidden in this dish as well, and it really rounded it out nicely.

The second dish of our third course was the Seared Scallops with brown butter goat XO (whatever the hell that means), bok choy, shiitakes, and white asparagus.

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The scallops were perfectly cooked and had a great sear to them. The brown butter sauce was borderline scandalous and the ample use of shiitakes sent this dish over the top.

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Now the dishes started pouring in. This is Sugo with linguini, rosemary, and cape gooseberries.

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This basically tasted like your mom's Sunday pot roast. If your mom won Top Chef.

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We all agreed that the gooseberries made the dish, cutting through the richness. I could've eaten the whole bowl by myself, and would've had my dining companions not kept me at bay.

And then the Grilled Broccoli with smokey blue cheese and crispy onions hit the table like a goddamn atom bomb.

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Without question the best broccoli dish I've ever had. Again, the blackenedness made it for me. I severed limbs in an effort to obtain a second helping. I emerged from the carnage in utter triumph.

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Finally our last two dishes arrived at the table. First up was the single most talked about dish: the Wood Oven Roasted Pig's Face with sunny side egg, tamarind, cilantro and potato stix.

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This dish definitely won the award for the best presentation of the night, but unfortunately it ranked just outside of my top five.

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As you can see the egg yolk was pleasantly unctuous and runny as it should be. We all swore this dish had some sort of maple component (maybe it was the tamarind?) This dish hit the perfect balance of smokey, sweet, and savory. This was definitely a table favorite.

Unfortunately our meal ended on a bad note as the Confit Goat Belly with bourbon butter, lobster, crab, and fennel was disjointed and would've been better served as two separate dishes.

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On their own both the seafood and the goat belly were fantastic, but together it just didn't work.

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Split into two separate dishes they both would've been great, but gamey fatty goat doesn't mesh with tender, delicate shellfish.

At this point the savory segment of our meal had come to a close. Unfortunately they were all out of the dessert I had my eye on--the goat cheese bavarois, so we chose the Ganache Pork Fat Doughnuts with yuzu blackberries, salted oat strusel, and malted vanilla gelato.

At this point Zack felt the need to entertain us with napkin animals. I had flashbacks of our honeymoon with Royal Caribbean.

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I think that rabbit was as drunk as I was. Our doughnuts arrived shortly thereafter, but apparently TGAG employs a fist of cyborg ninja spies, not unlike the Foot, because the next thing I know a complimentary Bittersweet Chocolate cake with shiitake gelato and toffee creme fraiche was being placed in front of me.

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The doughnuts, while good, were nothing mindblowing. These flavors we've all had before at Sunday breakfast at grandma's house.

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Berries, streusel, cream. Basically an awesome bowl of oatmeal... doughnuts. It whiffed on the pork fat. The one thing that did set it apart was the malted gelato. Malt is a flavor I really can't get enough of.
The doughnuts were quickly forgotten in lieu of this tremendous beast of a chocolate cake. Even in my inebriated state this dish spoke to my loins. It made them fiery with passion. Luckily, I restrained the urge to make bittersweet chocolate cake babies right there at the table. Just barely, though.

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The sour/tartness of the creme fraiche sent this dish over the top. Combine that with the slightly funky shiitake gelato and I drunkenly claimed it one of the top 5 desserts of my life. While I think I'd have to try it again (sober) to make that claim, it was a goddamn fine way to end our meal.

So, this is what you've all been waiting for. I'll conclude this post with my top five dishes of the meal. This birthday is going to be hard to beat.  30s, here I come in all my righteous fury.

1. Broccoli
2. Chocolate Cake
3. Veal Heart
4. Cauliflower
5. Chorizo Flatbread


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