BON APPETIT – The Fainting Goat Restaurant: the year of the goat for D.C. dining
April 4, 2016
You’d be hard-pressed to think of an area restaurant with a quirkier name than “The Fainting Goat.” Wikipedia tells me that fainting goats are real: undersized domestic goats whose muscles tense up when stressed, causing them to briefly pass out. The restaurant’s namesake comes not from the animal but from partner Greg Algie’s old nickname. His friends observed that he would react like a fainting goat when in the presence of the opposite sex. How ironic, then, that his restaurant has become one of the most popular date destinations on U Street.
Strangely, the place with the oddest name on the block is in some ways one of its more conventional spots. Unlike some of the scruffier bars, jazz clubs and takeout joints that line the street, the Goat is an elegant, but friendly neighborhood gathering place: a gastropub that wouldn’t seem out of place in one of the trendier neighborhoods in Brooklyn. The clientele is young and hip and the small brick-lined main dining room maintains a low, but lively hum, conducive to enjoying a few cocktails or a long, leisurely meal. Service can be a bit on the slow side, especially during busy hours, but in this pleasant atmosphere, it hardly matters.
The Goat’s Executive Chef Nathan Beauchamp is an Eastern Shore native who bounced around the D.C. restaurant scene, highlighted by a tenure at Georgetown’s highly regarded 1789, and then left for a stint in Minneapolis, only to return to D.C. in the summer or 2014. His relatively small menu is divided by size into cutely named categories: “Nibble,” “Graze” and “Feed.” A quick survey of the main room suggests that most patrons come to nibble or to graze, but this shouldn’t be seen as a commentary on the larger “Feed” dishes — most of which are carefully prepared and generously portioned.
The term “gastropub” might actually be a misnomer; instead of reinventing typical pub fare, Beauchamp offers creative modern dishes, most of which are original without being gimmicky. Large Salt and Pepper Prawns ($3.50 apiece) are seasoned with chili and lime for a spicy kick, and perfectly browned Cauliflower ($) is mixed with currants, chilis and pinenuts ($10) for a pleasingly sweet and savory blend. Beets ($10), which have become more or less ubiquitous at high end area restaurants, are here given extra sweetness with a dollop of goat yogurt, and crunch from a handful of sunflower seeds.
The kitchen isn’t afraid to take risks with dishes like the Scallop Crudo ($14), which features an unlikely combination of rube grapefruit and fennel, and is as sweet and tender as it is unusual. More conventional is Beauchamp’s take on a Burger ($14), a juicy patty, straightforwardly topped with pickles, Dijon and unpretentious melted American cheese – as well as tomato jam, a welcome substitute for ketchup. One of the true highlights, the Goat Po Boy ($17), does the Goat’s namesake proud with a stack of the tender curried meat, accompanied by a layer of shrimp and mango stuffed into a hearty ciabatta.
The drinks menu is populated by creative cocktails with droll names. The bar gets a little more mileage from the goat theme with “I Ain’t Afraid of No Goats,” ($10) an aromatic and fruity concoction that features mead, Benedictine and pureed lychee. The “Not so Dark, A Little Stormy,” ($10) uses a homemade ginger beer and manages to avoid excessive sweetness. The beer list features a host of interesting American drafts and ciders, both domestic and international.
With a solid brunch and worthwhile Happy Hour deals — as well as summertime special events like lobster boils, crab feasts and fried chicken picnics — the Fainting Goat has already become that fun and classy neighborhood hangout it aspired to be. Although it opened in 2013, it started to generate serious buzz from locals last year. (Is it any coincidence that 2015 was, according to the Chinese Zodiac, the Year of the Goat?) Now, it’s only a matter of time until the rest of the District catches on.