Significant sequels

3 high-end restaurants open casual spinoffs

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In the last six months, three highly regarded restaurant chef/operators — Stephanie Izard of Girl & the Goat, Graham Elliot of his eponymous restaurant, and David Flom and Matt Moore of Chicago Cut Steakhouse — have opened sequel restaurants, each a more casual, more affordable version of their high-end originals.

G.E.B.

A host stand made from a Marshall amplifier. Devotional candles dedicated to "saints" Johnny Cash, Lou Reed, Anthony Bourdain, Charlie Trotter and many more. A cocktail named for Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah. Background tunes recognizable by their bass lines — which is good, because when the restaurant is full, subwoofer sound is all one can discern.

It's fair to say that G.E.B. revels in its rockin' inclinations.

The monogram stands for Graham Elliot Bistro, and by all appearances it's the casual counterpart to Graham Elliot's eponymous two-Michelin-star restaurant in River North. In reality, G.E.B. is the restaurant the chef had in mind in 2008, when he opened Graham Elliot after leaving Avenues, at the time one of Chicago's most experimental restaurants.

That place, originally, had loud music and jeans-clad waiters and very playful food. But as Elliot's fine-dining fame grew (thanks in large part to his TV presence as cooking-competition judge), Graham Elliot grew into a more serious restaurant with, in Elliot's words, "tweezer food."

But the casual-concept dream was reborn in a narrow space in the middle of Randolph Street's restaurant row, a space "where the rent was so ridiculously cheap — with a patio/courtyard area — that we couldn't pass it up," Elliot says.

The chef is Jacob Saben, who was part of Graham Elliot's opening team, and he oversees a menu in which few dishes ever exceed three ingredients. This works quite well, especially with pasta and seafood dishes — the seared scallops with sweet-potato-filled pasta packets and lemon-grass broth, crisp-breaded whitefish over sunchokes and thickened citrus coulis and pappardelle noodles with wild-boar ragu are all terrific. Ditto for the rabbit composition, a confit leg and bacon-wrapped loin medallions over a rich broth accented with house-made ranch sauce.

If you're eating lighter, the "GE" Caesar is a less-fussy version of the Caesar that opened Graham Elliot five years ago, the lightly spiced pakoras (Indian fritters) with apricot chutney are agreeably fun finger food, and whatever the day's flatbread pizza might be, chances are it'll be worth your attention.

Desserts continue in the laid-back vein with an upright banana split (in a Mason jar), a tall stack of fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies with milk, and gianduja-stuffed beignets.

Staffers provide professional attentiveness amid the dining room's sonic chaos. Jennifer Trotter, onetime sister-in-law of you-know-who, is the perpetual-motion general manager on the floor; beverage manager Ryan Brignole oversees a small but focused assortment of wines, beers and cocktails so interesting I'd come here just to drink. And I probably wouldn't be alone, especially when the courtyard in back opens.

Little Goat

Stephanie Izard's acclaimed Girl & the Goat is a triumph of precision and balance. Little Goat, her across-the-street sequel is a relative hodgepodge, where ingredients and textures come together in seemingly random and often messy ways. It works, because Izard's flavors work, but some dishes definitely are head-scratchers.

The breakfast part of the menu, for instance, has a brandade-and-pork-belly that's a play on eggs Benedict, accented with a good jolt of spicy kimchi, and an "Asian Style Breakfast Tasty Thing" that combines bacon, eggs and pancakes with more kimchi. The Bull's Eye French toast I like; the French toast has an egg in its center recess, and it's served with nuggets of boneless fried chicken, so we have a chicken-and-waffles meets toad-in-the-hole effect. The gooseberries on the plate add tempered bursts of acidity; the tangy barbecue maple syrup takes the dish a step too far. There's so much going on in this dish, I think a more straightforward syrup would work better.

Lunch and dinner options, paradoxically, are much more down-to-earth. Six burger styles, including straight-up American, patty melt and a spicy Korean style (they really like kimchi here), are available with beef, goat or veggie patties.

There are fun, iconic snacks and side dishes, including a very tasty hot crab dip with a Ritz-cracker border and a comforting shell pasta and white-goat-cheddar mac and cheese. I'd spend the $3 for the dinner rolls, pull-apart Parker House rolls that arrive hot from the oven, anytime.

Main courses include good fried chicken with crunchy slaw and mashed potatoes, a nice farmer's pie with ground goat meat and a messy-but-good "fork pork chop," a big pile of fork-tender pork (actually pork cheek) in a soupy broth containing cauliflower and, yep, just-spicy-enough kimchi. A special of beef-heart gyros is actually pretty — the puffy bread laid flat and topped with meat, cucumber slices and a gentle tzatziki — and it tastes great.

Little Goat mimics an old-fashioned diner with its bright colors, red tufted-leather booths (the revolving-door entry is wrapped in tufted leather as well, but in a more modern metallic green) and long diner counter with floor-mounted stools. The next room over is a coffee shop and bakery by day (offering breads, prepared items and to-go sandwiches), standing-room bar by night. Breakfast service begins at 7 a.m. (the coffee bar will open at 6 a.m. when summer hours kick in soon), the restaurant doesn't close until 2 a.m. and the place is open every day. That's a lot of hours.

Sweet finales include sundaes (including a banana split with a miso accent), shakes and some very good individual-size pies, such as blood orange with toasted meringue.

I assumed that one of Little Goat's functions was to handle some of the overflow from Girl & the Goat (where waits can be very long), but the sequel has found an audience of its own.

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