Girl Next Door
Brooklyn Girl opens with a bang
Every 1,000 years, a mythical bird builds a fire pit and flame-broils itself, only to be reborn shiny and new. Showy bird. And a real neat trick—dying to live.
Michael and Victoria McGeath just phoenixed. After 1,000 years of service, their Trattoria Acqua in La Jolla was scorched by the holy economic hell. Two years after its closure, the husband-and-wife duo is reborn with Brooklyn Girl in Mission Hills.
Lord, what a difference.
The McGeaths are SD resto lifers, icons. Michael managed the Old Spaghetti Factory in 1976. He hired Victoria as a server, and fell in love. They spearheaded the famous Fio’s in the Gaslamp, back when the area was mostly good for muggings and satisfying sailors’ illicit needs. Then came Acqua in 1994, an upscale Italian cavern.
Acqua was cozy, quaint, stocked with romantic trinkets of bodega life. It possessed a certain Old World theme-parkness, white linen included. By 2010 it seemed a touch out of step, weary as the ’80s-style wooden shingles.
I wondered. I know others did. With Brooklyn Girl, could the vets grasp the scene’s current blacksmith modernism and stand up next to Bankers Hill, Craft & Commerce, and Bencotto?
4033 Goldfinch Street
Seems so. Brooklyn Girl is nostalgia meets now—a clean, unpretentious vision of the boho burg. Lights dangle from century-old iron pulleys; walls are subway material (concrete and tiny white tile); two massive chandeliers are enclosed in black iron birdcages, to stunning effect. Twenty-two-foot ceilings in the 4,800-square-foot space provide breathing room. It’s needed, because it’s jammed with stylish urban architects and the people who try to look like them.
In name and décor, Brooklyn Girl is McGeath’s love letter to his wife and the city that formed her. Jeesh. I named my Facebook password after my wife (that’s a lie; my daughter got the nod). How do you criticize an icon who lost his restaurant after 17 years, only to rise again and dedicate it to the woman he loves?
Kidding. So far, Brooklyn Girl is a success. At 5 p.m., a swarm of locals joust for first-come seating at the bar and wooden communal tables. I approach two open seats. A woman interjects, points to her iPhone, says something about friends. I move on. Within 30 seconds, an older gentleman all but picks her up and deposits her two seats down.
Chivalry’s dead, lady. Tell your friends.
A pantry will eventually serve quick breakfast and “pour-over” coffee (the slow, apparently sublime kind). For now, it’s dinner only, under the watch of chef Tyler Thrasher (ex-Oceanaire, Jsix). It’s dominated by the wood-fired oven, with whole roasts (duck, lamb, chicken—feeding two people, or one giant person) and pizzas (one with littleneck clams and Brussels sprouts; a Margherita; and the fantastic, pants-kicking, sausage-pepperoni-chili ditty called “Michael’s Choice”). There’s also a bevy of apps, salads, and composed dishes, and a very reasonable list of wines by the glass (all $9 and under, including the always-improving Fallbrook cab). A full bar offers mules in copper mugs, and other artisan throwbacks that have become standard issue.
The All Kale Caesar! to start is a great choice, the parchment-tough green in a just-right amount of garlicky vinaigrette, with split boiled egg. Let’s face it—post-arugula boom, boring old Romaine tastes like water. I was excited for the bread salad, an Italian classic. Though perfectly flavorful with heirloom toms, feta, pickled red onion, bell peppers, and cucumbers in a red wine vinaigrette, the bread ruined the experience. It was essentially double-baked croutons, with zero chew I expect from panzanella.
Generosity rules the Thai basil mussels—a tasty heap of Carlsbad Aqua Farm bivalves in a coconut, chili, and lemongrass broth (dive deep for full flavor). Pork and beans (maple-glazed belly, baked beans, pickled cabbage, sunny-side egg) had all the right elements. But it, along with the matzo ball soup, begged for a touch more salt, spice, aromatics—flavor.
If there’s any issue early on, this is it. It’s very slight, almost nitpickish. But it’s real. The ingredients are top-quality (local when it makes sense), the acid-fat and sweet-savory balances mostly well attended to. But even the brown stone brick chicken wall-flowered a bit on the palate, the only mild punch coming from a balsamic. They just need to crank the spice dial a touch, somewhere between Mike’s killer pie and that matzo.
For sides, definitely try the Baja roasted corn (with cilantro, cotija, and lime) and an absolutely stunning hot, crispy, buttery cornbread topped with local honeycomb and white cheddar. It made my mouth a better mouth.
Nothing wrong with the 14-ounce, three-day-brined Duroc pork chop, either. With crispy Brussels sprouts, hot mustard oil, and sweet soy, it’s a beastly carnivore throwback done right. For dessert, the bread pudding with bourbon reduction is also good enough to make those crammed into the communal tables forgive multiple elbows to the noggin through the night.
Brooklyn Girl is more than brilliant cornbread, wrought-iron ambiance, and wood-fired ovens. We all lost someone or something around 2008. For the restaurant scene, the McGeaths were that someone.
Sentimentality doesn’t make dinner, I realize. But everything else is solid, if not occasionally damn good.