For many people, the closest goat-related morsel they're willing to put in their mouths might be a little chevre on a toasted round.
Too bad. They're missing out on a hot new Southern California restaurant trend. No, not at the high-priced palaces of haute cuisine, but in places such as Hong Lien in Orange County, where a true gourmet's heart races at the sight of a menu with more than a dozen goat dishes, including charbroiled goat on a sizzling platter, goat in lemon sauce and warm goat salad.
For many local immigrants from Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, goat meat--particularly when it comes from milder-tasting young animals--is their favorite comfort food. As their numbers grow, restaurants catering to them are attracting more adventurous diners.
Intrepid restaurant buffs are sampling goat dishes in Korean, Vietnamese and African places; they regard finding an unfamiliar goat specialty on par with discovering an exciting new genome. For example, word has spread that at Phong Dinh in Rosemead, there are eight goat dishes, including ground goat meat wrapped in \o7la\f7\o7 lot \f7leaves. The Ambala Dhaba restaurants in West Los Angeles and Artesia offer five richly seasoned goat dishes: grills, sautes and a pilaf-like \o7biryani\f7.
In Koreatown, Han Mi and Chin Go Gae serve marinated grilled goat and cooked-at-the-table goat casserole with greens and rice. Many other Korean restaurants offer goat soup, which is prized for its flavor and its purported ability to strengthen postpartum mothers and frail children and enhance virility.
The enormity of some immigrant populations allows restaurants to succeed by filling a particularly narrow niche. Regional Mexican goat preparations range from \o7birria\f7 to Oaxcan \o7barbacoa \f7bathed in a sauce thick with ground guajillo and ancho chiles at Monte Alban in West Los Angeles, where goat tacos \o7de barbacoa \f7also are a specialty.
A twist on Jamaican goat curry at Caribbean Tree House in Inglewood is a Trinidad and Tobago-style stew wrapped in roti bread like a burrito. Ashoka the Great, in Artesia, and a handful of other Indian restaurants make goat curry in the style of India's Punjab state, while Al Noor, in Lawndale, seasons its regional Punjabi curry in the Pakistani fashion.
At the Ecuadorean El Caserio in Silver Lake, owner William Velasco is finding appreciative new customers for his braised-in-lager \o7seco de chivo\f7, an Andean dish now served throughout Ecuador. "Friends introduce other friends and they love it."
TiGeorges Laguerre, owner of TiGeorges' Chicken near Silver Lake, hesitated to serve traditional Haitian lime-juice-marinated goat, \o7cabrit\f7 fricassee. But the response was so favorable as a weekend special, he now prepares it daily.
Laguerre is not alone in his experience. Chef Rio Bautista at Asian Noodles Cafe, a Filipino restaurant in Chinatown, says the Batangas-style \o7caldereta, \f7a long-simmered goat stew, sells briskly at lunch to the multinational office crowd.
Chefs and customers alike are becoming particular about the goat they select. Derrick Angus, the owner and chef at his eponymous restaurant in Los Angeles, prefers leg meat--the leanest part--for his health-oriented Jamaican cooking. Ophelia Martinez, of Monte Alban, who learned about goat by assisting her aunt at a Oaxacan weekend market, says only fresh goat meat will do at her restaurant. "The frozen stuff doesn't taste as good."
A wholesale niche market is growing for the more desirable fresh meat, and in response, domestic goat farmers are beefing up their herds. "Ten years ago I sold about 15 to 20 fresh goats a week," says Jimmy Jamil, sales representative for Rocky's Food Distribution in Montebello. "Now it's more like three to four hundred." Goat now shows up at such mainstream grocers as Whole Foods and Costco. And family-run stores such as Claro's Italian Market in San Gabriel advertise seasonal spring goats that meat manager Joe Rettura procures from Pilot Brands in Los Angeles.
Chef Reuben de la Mata, from Malaga, Spain, is consulting at Next Door, a chichi new tapas bar and lounge in Studio City. He thinks roasted \o7cabrito lechal\f7, or garlic-encrusted baby kid, would be ideal for the modern Spanish menu. Owner Frank Leon agrees. "My customers will definitely want to try it."
Leon wouldn't have said so a decade ago, when some considered raw fish scary and before Carl's Jr. offered portabello mushrooms. Like those formerly exotic foods, goat meat, having proved its virtues in an array of ethnic dishes, is beginning to nudge its way into the mainstream, even making a surprise appearance in Celestino Drago's elegantly plated ravioli. Can an all-goat night at Jar or Norman's be far behind?
CLARO'S ROAST GOAT
Serves 8 to 10
Note: Look for baby goat in the spring. Goat legs are available now at Latino markets. Have the butcher cut the leg crosswise through the bone into 2-inch-thick steaks.
9- to 10-pound goat leg, cut into 2-inch-thick steaks
4 cups white wine