Before I read about everything that is Chicago food culture, my go-to reference for “good” restaurants, like many others, was the Zagat Restaurant Guide. For years, the top restaurant in that book was Les Nomades. The man at the reigns of this classic French restaurant was chef Chris Nugent. This talented young chef took this classic French restaurant to the top of the Zagat ratings (ahead of some little known restaurant named Alinea), four-star reviews, along with countless other accolades…and then he left.
But for what?
Located in Lincoln Square, goosefoot is hidden on a block of grocery stores, pizza restaurants, and sandwich shops. Who would have expected a fine dining restaurant to rest on this busy street? Chef and Mrs. Nugent, that’s who.
This quaint byob is currently serving some the finest cuisine in the city. The menus are crated based on seasonality, and chef Nugent said he shops for ingredients every morning, “so some things are on the menu one day and are modified or completely off the next.” A trendy approach to menus, as many other chefs are doing similarly.
Upon arriving, we are greeted by chef’s wife, Nina, who takes our wine and begins explaining the menu. One note to highlight: the menu is plantable. That is, she suggested putting it into a pot and watering it when we got home. Curious and intriguing, however the menu lies in a drawer instead. What came after the explanation and poured wine was a series of perfectly executed dishes.
In three words, the menu was light, sophisticated, and non-pretentious. Our meal started with a scallop dish, highlighted by lobster, licorice root and curry. The scallop was cooked perfectly, and the curry accented the seafood nicely. This dish set the tone for the evening, and showed that chef Nugent was not playing around.
Other notable dishes included a corn and potato soup with truffle essence. Absolutely delicious, with my only critique coming at the amount of salt (a little too much). The arctic char served with maitake, english peas, and espelette was plentiful in portion size, and was as exquisite as it was beautifully plated. Nugent also served a duck breast with beluga lentils, ginger and compressed apple, an interesting combination of flavors.
The meal concluded with a few desserts, introducing the chocolatier in chef Nugent. Pumpkin, coffee bean, and citrus were the center of attention for one dessert. With my dislike for pumpkin, I tried the dessert and wound up eating it all. A second dessert focused on hazelnut, various chocolates, caramel and coconut. Eloquently plated, and masterfully executed, this was the perfect way to end the meal.
Chef Nugent showed us the kitchen, which is as narrow as a hallway, and explained that with goosefoot, he is now able to do everything he wants with his cooking. He explained that his past experiences (Les Nomades, Prairie, MK) taught him to refine his palate, and to focus on producing a sophisticated dish.
As we sat finishing our wine, we had an open discussion about our experience. Much of the table agreed that this was up there in top meals, and that Nugent deserved (at least) one Michelin star*. It is amazing, really, that a thirty-four seat restaurant take out the juggernaut known as Next to hold the title of Best New Restaurant 2012. But you know what? Chef Nugent deserves it.
*We dined prior to the Michelin Guide’s release.