all words: Logan Hollers, all photos: Sarah Gerrity
Designing a gorgeous restaurant is tougher than most people realize. When a restaurant wows you as soon as you walk in, it tends to set the tone for a good evening (or afternoon, or day drinking, whatever – no judgment here). The Fainting Goat (located at 1330 U Street NW) with its bare brick, chandeliers, dark wood, and just-right lighting, shines in this regard. Thankfully, a new chef and new menu items ensure that what’s coming out of the kitchen is just as striking as the front of house. BYT was there to give some of the new dishes a taste.
Chef Nathan Beauchamp, a veteran of 1789, Restaurant Eve, and Bistro Bis, took time off from the kitchen to move to Minneapolis, where he started an organic farm and taught culinary classes. He returned to DC last June to take over as the executive chef of The Fainting Goat. Minnesota’s loss is DC’s gain.
Start with a new dish featuring the vegetable of the moment, cauliflower: the softly roasted florets are tossed with a sweet white balsamic vinaigrette. Pine nuts and currants prove worthy partners to the creamy cauliflower.
Not beefy enough for you? Instead go with the restaurant’s luscious steak tartare, hand-chopped to order and mixed with garlic confit, chives, and quail eggs. Thin rye chips convince you to forgo the fork, for this course at least.
A BYT favorite was the mini cast-iron skillet of melted goat cheese fondue with minced poblano and piquillo peppers and herbs. Rich? Of course, but a tart salad of shaved fennel and watermelon radish offers a crisp refresher between bites. Cubes of perfectly grilled bread from Lyon Bakery allow you to mop up every gooey, spicy, cheesy bit.
Just as delicious (and a great dish for sharing, perhaps for a future date plan?…hint hint) is the restaurant’s flatbread topped with barely cooked clams, coins of fingerling potato, and soft, sweet piquillo peppers, all adorned with a sprinkling of arugula. A schmear of ricotta cheese (goat, of course) serves as a salty base, holding tight to the teeny clams on top.
The hits aren’t limited to the starters, however. A po’ boy piles high shredded, jerk-seasoned goat, breaded shrimp, and a crème fraiche coleslaw (no mayo here – too heavy, says the chef) on a semolina roll that manages to both stay crunchy and contain all the ingredients without falling apart (thanks again, Lyon Bakery!). A few pickles tucked within provide crunch and brine.
Better still is the house-ground goat sausage, three parts goat to one part pork and spiced with cayenne and red chili, onion powder, garlic, and fennel – blackened, spicy, and not at all gamey. A harissa aioli pleasantly matches and amps up the goat’s intensity.
Even the humble roast chicken gets special treatment from the chef: crisp skin gives way to impossibly moist lobes of white meat, while a shaved Brussel sprout salad with hazelnuts and a malt vinegar reduction adds bitterness. It’s the perfect dish to chase away the bitter cold.
One need not stick to the barnyard, however, to find a great meal. Maybe surprisingly for a place called The Fainting Goat, the seafood slays.
First among equals is a scallop crudo. The raw shellfish, sweet and succulent, is offset with the addition of pickled lobster mushrooms; the tartness of cubed asian pears pairs well (sorry) and adds a needed textural contrast. A splash of melted brown butter ties everything together.
Might we also recommend the charred octopus? Set atop a bed of heirloom beans (both smoky and meaty thanks to being cooked with pulled ham hock), the blackened exterior gives way to meat that’s somehow lightly chewy, yet also incredibly tender.
Looking to take just a dip in the ocean rather than dive in? Try the fried oyster with kohlrabi and horseradish – the two best components of the dish, a puree of celeriac and a light touch on the crispy coating, don’t overwhelm the creamy oyster within.
Finally, the whole-roasted trout is as easy on the eyes as it is on the palate. The fish is presented whole, split down the middle and stuffed with lobster, pickled onion, and sunchokes. Crisp skin gives way to moist, flaky fish (BYT pro tip: don’t let that eyeball go to waste!).
The beverage program maintains a similar level of excellence. Favorites included the La Antiquada, a smoky take on the classic Old Fashioned with mezcal, agave syrup, and lime bitters; and the Dude Chata, a grown-up White Russian that pairs rum and coffee liqueur with (naturally) goat milk horchata.
Need something stronger? Go with the Little Squash on the Prairie – Prairie organic vodka is mixed with a butternut squash puree, Dolin Blanc and Dolin Dry vermouths, and a sprig of tarragon. Drink carefully…a few of these and you may be the one fainting.
The Fainting Goat’s punch program is also on-point: two of the best are the Apple Jack Punch, a well-balanced cocktail that mixes whiskey, cider, apple brandy, and cinnamon; and the Cara Cara Punch, a blend of hibiscus tea, car acara oranges, apple, and Jameson. As our BYT photographer so aptly put it: “I love it! It reminds me of Hi-C fruit punch…but with alcohol!”
At this price point, you’d be hard-pressed to find better food in the city right now. And, as a final incentive, the Lunar New Year begins today, February 19th. This year’s celebration? The Year of the Goat, naturally. Get here now.