Relationships are difficult. Getting to know someone takes time, determination and open minds. And when we’re all too eager to dismiss something with which we’re unfamiliar, some unions are left unembraced. Since I’ve lived in Richmond, there’s never been (conceptually) a nose-to-tail restaurant. Richmond has the resources. Latin — and a few Asian — restaurants on the South Side share the distinction of being the only places where goat, ox, or unconventional pig parts would pop up on the menu with regularity. As a city, we aren’t afraid. We just approach things differently. We approach this European gastro-pub movement as we would a stranger — gingerly and with slight hesitation.
But the Blue Goat has embraced this movement unabashedly in beautiful, new, unpretentious surroundings, previously a Peking, on Grove Avenue. Chef Kevin LaCivita of Pomegranate shows prowess in taking the unfamiliar and transforming it into the accessible girl next door. From my many visits, it looks as though Richmond is enjoying his expert introduction.
Service is as pristine as the surroundings, save a few kinks — a bar server checks a phone for Twitter-posted specials as opposed to memory. Compliments to the knowledgeable wait staff, present but not clingy, answering the inevitable questions that follow with any budding relationship. The menu is split into three sections, nibble ($7), graze ($11) and feed ($15) — based on, it seems to me, not portion size but heartiness of dish. Elucidation on the specials and quick drink preparation leave the diner time to connect with a new restaurant romance slowly in the making.
Amid West End iPhone-clasping moms, suited-up Innsbrook business people and traveling Fan tourists, my first date begins with light and easy fried squash blossoms, a special. They’re stuffed perilously full with blue cheese, gorgonzola, ricotta and mascarpone. The breakable blossom’s filling is so airy, the bite from the stinkier cheese is barely there. A hefty basil-tinged cream keeps the blossoms upright in presentation and begs for bread. Rabbit pâté is texturally intriguing for those gun-shy of game. It’s whipped and creamy — superb with its plate partner of local truffle honey.
The house-made ricotta pops with the use of the same addition, and provides an alternative to those who can’t quite make the venture to pâté or bunny. A plump, caramelized piece of seared foie gras is presented over dark, concentrated berry compote. The effect is dinner dessert that’s wallet repeatable.
Another outing — seated near a girls’ night out and the many beer-soaked fellows who attempt to land them — I crunch audibly through battered, thinly sliced pig ear hugged with a coating of duck egg. I follow that shareable finger-food nibble with a pork and venison Bolognese, thick with meat and a sprinkling of fluffy potato gnocchi. I consort with the house-made ravioli. Sweet goat meat mates seamlessly with sage butter. The outer pasta shell is chewy (not to be confused with al dente) and the entire dish elevates to exceptional with a little tweak here. The berries and mascarpone ($8) aren’t the earth-shattering kiss on the mouth I hope for — it’s missing some expected tartness and served an oddly lukewarm ... a suitably chaste kiss to the cheek.
Relationships are always fun when new: the adventure, the expectations, the build-up. The question is, will the feeling of new and exciting last? Waiting for a table long into the evening will make you ask if it’s even worth it, if sustaining this interest will provide a reward. Is the tender and tangy oxtail enough to ask for a third or fourth date? Where will the zippy pork cheek lead? While savoring a spoonful of caramel and lava salt gelato ($6), with that combination of heady and addicting salty and sweet, I predict a long and fruitful union. S
The Blue Goat
5710 Grove Ave.
Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-10 p.m.
Tuesday: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-10:15 p.m.
Friday: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5 p.m.-midnight
Saturday: 5 p.m.-midnight