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The Smoking Goat


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The Smoking Goat is neither a British pub nor a purveyor of legal weed, though recent visits left us rather giddy with pleasure. Rather, it’s a knockout little bistro that could hold its own anywhere from San Francisco or New York to Le Marais — but happens to be in our own North Park.

Much has been made of the restaurant renaissance in this blossoming neighborhood, where residents enjoy a bounty of culinary riches within easy walking distance. In particular, the intersection of 30th and Upas boasts a number of new eateries that contrast sharply with the local Jack in the Box.

In this restaurant-rich quarter, The Smoking Goat opened with a whimsical name that almost had us expecting barbecued ribs and hookah pipes. Instead, we found a Le Cordon Bleu – trained chef riffing skillfully on California, French and comfort cuisine in a tiny space that’s both rustic and urbane. The Smoking Goat may be the smallest new kid on the block, but it’s big news for foodies.

Chef-owner Fred Piehl’s local cooking credits include stints at Avenue 5 and La Jolla’s Nine-Ten. For his venture into ownership, this casual dining room that seats fewer than 30 and turns tables a few times a night is ideal.

“Since this is my first restaurant, I didn’t want to jump into a huge space,” he says. “The advantage here is we don’t have to serve a lot of people at once, so we’re preparing things as we go.”

That spontaneity is epitomized by the menu, which changes weekly as a collaboration between Piehl and chefs Mike Ryan and Ryan Grasley. Using hormone-free meats and poultry, along with an enticing spectrum of veggies, Piehl blends his classical training with down-to-earth bistro sensibilities. There’s butcher paper on the tables and Mick Jagger on the soundtrack. Life is good. It’s even better as the food starts arriving. Mac ’n’ cheese shares billing with celeriac remoulade. An all-American burger shows up on a French brioche bun. House-cut French fries are finished in a blend of duck fat and peanut oil and then seasoned with truffle oil.

More kudos to the team for embracing the sheer variety of produce on the market. Piehl not only serves a fine crab cake ($10), he surrounds it with that celeriac remoulade and a festive chopped salad starring avocados, ­oranges and onions. He augments the spinach salad ($8) with grilled asparagus and sweet onions, then echoes those outdoorsy flavors with lots of pancetta and a fluffy goat-cheese croquette.

House-made gnocchi ($12) came with fat fava beans and fresh ramps (wild leeks), a seasonal delicacy from the Appalachians with a distinctive green-garlic character. (I wish ramps were in season longer than March through May — but then, part of the joy of seasonal cuisine is longing for the produce that’s no longer in season, rather than trying to get it year-round.)

Finally, there’s the stoemp — not the Broadway show but rather the traditional root-vegetable side dish from Belgium. Think smashed potatoes with turnips, carrots and a touch of cream, with French quatre épices for hints of nutmeg and clove.

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