Reviews: Goosefoot and Les Nomades
HUNGER GAMES: Les Nomades sets the time machine for 2000. Goosefoot sets it for tomorrow
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Goosefoot’s chestnut soup, Cinderella pumpkin with nougatine, and Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese on a tapioca cracker
If you want to see where upscale dining has been, go to Les Nomades. Want to know where it’s going? Goosefoot. The bridge between the two special restaurants is the classically trained chef Chris Nugent, who recently ended a celebrated seven-year tenure at the former to open the latter. In doing so, he traded a luxe Streeterville brownstone for a tiny BYO storefront on a stretch in Lincoln Square so desolate it prompted one local reporter to wonder if Nugent had lost a bet.
Turns out Nugent and his wife, Nina, live right around the corner, where they grow their own red sorrel, goosefoot, nasturtium, Ruby Red chard, and countless other varieties of microgreens. “I have a light system set up so we can keep going through the winter,” says Nugent, 38. Don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of thing I want to hear from a chef.
They didn’t lose a bet, but the Nugents have placed a bold wager with Goosefoot. They designed the 34-seat restaurant themselves, with custom fixtures including gold-toned banquettes and large maple-topped tables. Rodin sculptures and elegant wall niches give the room a beatific vibe; lose the brown carpet and it would be downright Zen. As for the opening eight-course prix fixe menu, it hit the ground running at three stars.
Nugent’s satisfying flavors haven’t changed much from his Les Nomades days, but his approach is leaner and cleaner. A good example is the crisp roasted quail with fiery beluga lentils, ginger gelées, vinegar-soaked “compressed apple,” and dots of parsnip purée and whole-grain mustard vinaigrette—an exquisite L2O-ish tableau that has been composed to within an inch of its life. Then there’s the miraculous chestnut soup with white Alba mushrooms and truffle essence and the impeccable Angus beef with goosefoot greens, cumin, shallot jus, and ingenious variations on heirloom carrots: Both manage to feel light while oozing decadent flavor.
Instead of presenting the usual no-brainer cheese plate with precious piles of quince paste and whatnot, Nugent sprinkles celery salt on ribbons of Pleasant Ridge Reserve from southern Wisconsin, rests them on a cracker made of tapioca balls, and puts that on a celery-truffle caponata and almond mascarpone. That’s not a cheese plate—it’s a fully realized dish. And Nugent does desserts better than most pastry chefs in town: His masterpiece is a square of chocolate mousse on a crispy hazelnut and praline feuilletine base. It’s topped with chocolate-dipped sea beans and served with orange blossom water. Once the mousse sets, Nugent sprays it with a paint gun containing a mix of cocoa butter and 56 percent chocolate. The result is a brittle outside layer—and the best dessert of the year.
When a new restaurant already has food this good, you almost expect lousy service. Yet Goosefoot’s quiet crew is as polished as waitstaffs that have been together for years. If I have any criticism, it’s that the staff’s manner is understated almost to the point of cold and stiff—but the giddy BYO vibe and relaxed dress code (Nugent: “We have seen everything from Dior and Valentino to Levi’s”) cancel that out in short order. I saw one group bring in ten bottles; things weren’t stiff for long. Goosefoot’s air flows with the particular bliss that permeates any young restaurant when diners realize they’re in a special place, and the smile on every face says the same thing: This is my first visit of many.
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Photograph: Anna Knott