Judas Goat has finally opened its doors a mere stumbling distance from its sister Salt, the wine and charcuterie bar in Blood Alley, and it might just steal its older sibling’s thunder.
While tapas have always had a crucial co-dependent relationship with alcohol, the small plates at Judas Goat are the overwhelming star (an advantage aided by the surprisingly short drink list, perhaps a trepidation from encroaching on the raison d’etre of Salt). This, despite the limited real estate: the kitchen area is no larger than that of a college apartment (if even that), and the restaurant seats less than thirty.A word of warning to the authenticity police: those seeking traditional Spanish tapas should go elsewhere (Spain, given the city’s slim pickings), though any one that has visited the more modern tapas joints in Barcelona or in Basque country should find Judas Goat not completely out of place. The portions are perhaps larger than most tapas bars, with most plates enough for two to have a healthy portion or enough for four to have a fair-sized tasting.
Start out with the bruschetta. There’s four to choose from – tiny white anchovies on salsa verde, mushrooms with comte, piquillo peppers with goat cheese, and chorizo atop carmelized onion and dark chocolate (think mole) – so bring an equal number of people so that you can try them all ($2.25 for one bite, or $8 for four). Each does a good job of setting the stage for the rest of the menu, but no more.
There’s a sous vide machine taking up valuable counter space, and it’s being put to good use. The sablefish, cooked in paprika and paired with Israeli cous cous, is a wonder, and considering the price point ($9) and the portion size, perhaps one of the best values in town. The braised pork belly ($6), served with an onion puree on bottom and a pine nut and orange gremolata on top, is unbelievably tender and flavourful, surely to be a hit for fans of all things pork. The brisket meatballs ($6) don’t quite hit the same high points, though that’s only because the other two dishes fly at such soaring altitudes.
The “Pressed, Potted or Cured” section swings widely in variety, from simple cold cuts to complex terrines. There’s not much one can say about the former, apart from applauding the inclusion of caccitori sausage ($6) from local purveyors Moccia, though it does serve as a good reminder that one should not go for tapas without having at least one form of ham ($10 for either parma or serrano; the cured salmon ‘pastrami’ ($7) provides a healthy alternative, if one is absolutely needed). The foie gras ($9) is served with a rhubarb foam on the side, and the density of the foam (more a parfait) matches evenly with the richness of the liver. The rabbit rillette ($6) is similarly paired with a carrot pannacotta (closer to a mousse); both dishes do well with the combination of savory and sweet. But the division title goes to two other dishes: lamb cheeks ($8) are encased in savoy cabbage leaves in a ‘terrine,’ and doused with a healthy amount of truffle oil that quickly fills the room with its earthy aroma; a scallop tartare ($7) is perhaps nothing out of the ordinary, in and of itself, but whoever had the idea of pairing it with pork cracklings deserves an amount of applause loud enough to wake up the Blood Alley inhabitants from their drug-fuelled haze.
We ended things off with two of the desserts. The goat cheese and almond cheesecake ($7) is surprisingly light and not as rich as one would dread. The dark chocolate tart ($7) is well enough on its own, with a chili jam providing a lively contrast, though with an appearance that harkens back to ectoplasm. These desserts, with no easy analogy in any traditional Spanish tapas bar (try Bubo Bar in Barcelona, however), are a good reminder that Judas Goat makes no bones of being the same. (The staff also reminded us of this: shortly after, we were rushed out to free up seats - despite there being no one in waiting - in contrast to a standard tapas bar, where the wine would flow freely into the night.)
Despite having opened only a few weeks prior, Judas Goat has seemingly escaped the opening jitters that other newcomers have faced in the past few months. The tapas bar has really exceeded expectations, which is even more of a compliment when one considers the months of anticipation. Given the limited amount of space, make a reservation before you go, and see every inch of the kitchen produce with exponential returns.
27 Blood Alley