First Visit: Dining with Strangers at Duck Duck Goat in the West Loop
Procrastination killed the food blogger.
Stephanie Izard’s much anticipated Duck Duck Goat opened late last March, and I was no closer to scoring a seat for dinner as summer approached. I had given up. If I wasn’t to be a giddy first guest than I’d be a more cynical late one. Fortunately, my “in” arrived by email one night just before a working dinner. An invitation to dine. A redeemer! The assured reservation came with a bonus: a prix fixe spread served family style for the price of only two cocktails. Too good to be true. I dropped my workload on the boss’ desk as we symbolically do nowadays by quietly closing my laptop, and I headed for the door.
Duck Duck Goat in the West Loop
The invitation was from Meal Sharing, a free service anyone can join. The company was created with the mission of making friends out of strangers over quality home-cooking. Jay Savsani was on a farm in Cambodia when the idea first struck him. Sharing new foods and honest conversation with good people under a night sky left him inspired. Today, he helps others create experiences similar to the one he had that night. My husband and I joined him for dinner along with a few loyal subscribers and Meal Sharing newbies.
Not wanting to ruin the mood with a clunky camera, I took photos that evening using my cellphone only.
The atmosphere: Duck Duck Goat is the Beyoncé of Izard’s three stand-out restaurants. It’s glamourous, with walls draped in rich oxblood fabrics and eerie family photos. Ceiling are presented raw with exposed wood planks or gaudy with Victorian shades. It’s shiny. As mirrors line up to give the illusion of space, metal gates and faux walls break off rooms like squares of chocolate from a candy bar. Each individual section has its own character and mood, to be devoured slowly. The center is anchored with a bar reminiscent of an outdoor serving cart, complete with string lights and hanging ferns because. Just because. And it works. Together it’s a cohesive mess. And I can’t stop staring.
From the menu: Inspired by travels throughout Asia and Chinatowns here at home, Izard created the menu to be “reasonably authentic”, more personal than historical.
The pacing was strange. I’ll get that out of the way. Most dishes were brought to the table all at once or after an extended delay as if forgotten. Our last plate of handmade noodles (Cheong Fun Xo) was not a worthy closer, but would have been better received in the beginning.
From the Dim Sum portion of Duck Duck Goat’s large menu, the Char Siu Bao was the standout and my favorite of the night. For those bored with bao, these steamed barbeque pork buns are a lesson in how to do something that’s done by everyone, better than anyone. The bun was not too soft, not too firm. Inside was mouthwatering pork in a rich and mild barbecue sauce.
The Octopus, Cucumber, and Peanut Salad was a perfect palate cleanser before the Chongqing Chicken, made Sichuan-style and doused in a variety of peppers. Izard prefers her dishes on the not-so-spicy-hot side and it shows in this reluctant sichuan. However, the chicken was wonderfully crisp without any oiliness.
Grilled Beef & Broccoli and Hongshao Rou were next. These well-seasoned dishes were dealt more salt than they deserved, in my opinion. I found myself grappling with the saltiness to find their complexities. Alongside the livestock, Forbidden Goat black rice peppered with quail eggs was a fitting accompaniment that could easily stand on its own. Somewhere along in this spread I found myself biting into Moo Shu Pork folded inside of a mandarin pancake. Made with juicy pork and veggies, this was another standout, packed with flavor and easy to handle.
When the Blueberry Rhubarb Ice and Fortune Cookies arrived, I was beyond stuffed, remorseful — but of course I had to try them both. The Blueberry Rhubarb Ice, topped with fresh fruit and crisped rice, washed over my taste buds, removing all the flavors I had ferociously wolfed down seconds ago. It is a light and clean finisher. Pins on which were written good advice laid next to flat, crisp almond cookies as a cute take on the traditional fortune cookie.
You Should Know
- With Meal Sharing, you pay for your meal prior to arrival, including gratuity. All that’s left is to dine and dash. But conversation is encouraged.
- Rationally, drinks were not included. From our table of 7, we ordered three drinks and our waiter, who we rarely saw, was visibly annoyed when we asked for two separate checks for the three drinks ordered. Especially when he split the three items incorrectly the first time. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, the place was packed and he seemed very busy. I would suggest perhaps bringing cash if with a large party.
- Sunday brunch is served from 10a to 1p.
Atmosphere: 4/4. A visual feast!
Service: 2/4. We would have ordered additional drinks if our waiter had returned before dessert.
Price: 4/4. Izard continues her tradition of surprisingly reasonable price points. The bao, for example, are $10 for two and the sharable Moo Shu Pork is only $16.
Food: 3/4. Inventive and well executed.
First Visit Rating: 3.25
Duck Duck Goat