The Smoking Goat's rustic-modern interior was designed by Bells & Whistles. Photo by Dhanraj Emanuel.
The Smoking Goat3408 30th St.North Park619-955-5295
It's safe to say that the narrow space at 3408 30th St., which now houses The Smoking Goat, has never turned out better food. It's never looked better, either, thanks to a restrained but thorough revamp by local design team Bells & Whistles that brought warmth, with a mix of custom-built pieces and found objects, to the once-stark room. The look is vaguely European, rustic and lived-in; in particular, I love the light fixture made from upturned metal egg baskets and the farmhouse-yellow bar and cabinetry.
Fred Piehl, The Smoking Goat's chef and owner, first considered this spot a couple of years ago when the original Commonwealth Café owners moved on, but it wasn't until a few iterations later, when the most recent proprietor put the restaurant up on Craigslist, that Piehl decided to take it on. A Cordon Bleu graduate, he's worked in the kitchens of local restaurants including Nine-Ten and Avenue 5.
The Smoking Goat's menu changes at least once a month, but the structure remains fairly steadfast. There's chicken, fish and pork with seasonally changing sides and always a homemade pasta. On my first trip, it was goat-cheese-filled tortellini in a lusciously rich wild-mushroom sauce, and the current offering is gnocchi with fava beans, mushrooms and ramps, a little-seen vegetable (with a short, springtime growing season) that tastes like an onion-garlic hybrid. Unchanging are the mac-and-cheese, the Delmonico steak (a rib-eye to you and me) and the burger, which is a standout in a town lousy with burgers both gourmet and bare-bones. Its brioche bun comes from neighboring bakery Cardamom Café, and the juicy patty can be topped with either brie or blue cheese. The burger's so popular that it's run out more than once, which should be a hint to the kitchen that they might want to prep a few extra.
The burger comes with potatoes fried in duck fat, and since I'd missed eating the famed duck-fat fries at Hot Doug's on a recent trip to Chicago, I was hoping that The Smoking Goat's version would make up for it. The medium-cut fries are tasty, with a garlicky parmesan topping, but they were lacking in the distinct ducky-ness that I thought these would have. Those less excited about duck-flavored fries will find that these are pretty good; some have a caramelized crust but a soft, creamy interior and some are crunchy through and through.
Though Piehl shops for ingredients regularly at the North Park and La Jolla farmers markets, he's resisted the trend to list his sources on the menu. If you're interested, they supplement their market trips with orders from Specialty Produce; the chicken is Jidori, the beef comes from Brandt in Brawley and the fish is sometimes local.
Lunch was served until very recently, but Piehl's decided to offer only dinner service and a weekday, late-afternoon happy hour that launched this month. Now that it's got a liquor license, bottles of wine are half-off from 4 to 6 p.m., though the two taps of local beer remain the same price. The happy-hour menu is mix of regular items and new small plates, including a trio of wild-boar sliders topped with aged cheddar and a tangy tomato-based sauce and mussels in a sauce of white wine, garlic, onions and tomatoes that's so creamy you can spoon it up like a bisque.
Despite its name, the restaurant does not serve goat, though it does get a little smoky and stuffy inside when it's at full capacity and the open kitchen is cranking, so in summer months, the two tables on the small, citrus-tree-trimmed front patio are sure to be hot property.
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