In 2009, I had just moved back to the Bay Area after a few years of living in the freezing wasteland of Washington state. I got into a rut back then, I guess you could say, of having the same horrible diet month after month. Cheeseburgers, fries, Americanized Chinese food, Americanized everything… and the Costco food court (sure, it’s cheap – but you’ll be paying for it in other ways). Part of the problem was that I was cooking at a restaurant that deep-fried all of the items on the menu, and the healthy entree experiments we tried were so poorly received that the dishes had to be dropped immediately. I got used to fatty comfort food, and that was that.
When I moved back to Oakland, one of my first stops was a Vietnamese spot on International Blvd. I tried the lemongrass pork chops, with spring rolls and iced coffee. After so many years of eating harsh comfort food, it was a rejuvenating experience. The flavors were so much more different than what I was used to, and I kind of realized that I had been stuffing my face out of boredom and routine for a long time. I was missing out on exciting food like this because I was so comfortable with my daily routine, I was worried that trying different stuff wouldn’t be as satisfying to me.
I am embarrassed to admit that, as an adult, I was still figuring out that I should have a varied diet and try new cuisines every once in a while. The problem with being adventurous with unfamiliar styles of food is that there is that lingering concern that I won’t be satisfied. This is why I tend to jump at the chance to try “fusion” restaurants: I get to dip my toes in the water a little bit, hedge my bets just in case I don’t totally love a cuisine from another country. It’s simultaneously safe AND bold, and you can be proud of your own trail-blazing spirit.
“Good Girl Dinette” is a great example of fusion technique making a particular cuisine more accessible, while still being exotic. I agree with Thu that the Good Girl is an excellent choice of restaurant to bring out-of-towners: it has an inviting vibe, and I didn’t have that sinking feeling that I was somehow out of my league (I felt that if I mispronounced every word on the menu, the server wouldn’t correct me). An example of the restaurant’s good-natured vibe can be found on the restroom wall, where several customers have added their own commentary to a hand-written sign posted by management (“Only flush toilet paper…”). It would have been the easiest thing to just tear the piece of paper down, and put a new sign up in its place, but “Good Girl” truly embraces the spirit of “fusion” – even if it is only a collaboration on the men’s room wall.
Thu and I both remarked that the dining room had that “hanging-out-in-an-artists-loft” sort of feeling. With the clean, bright decor and huge windows, “Good Girl” is a very pleasant place to spend time with friends and try interesting food, and eat food that you have an emotional connection with. It was a real treat seeing Thu’s reaction to every bite of his pork confit, but some of his moans of pleasure were slightly embarrassing: I half-expected to hear another diner whisper “I’ll have what he’s having”.
The friendly service only added to the pleasant atmospehere. Our server had a good sense of humor, and not too overbearing. She seemed to sense those times when we needed some extra attention, and we never had to impatiently look around for her. She brought a ramikin of simple syrup when the hand-made meyer-lemon soda was too tart, and when we sat around for a half-hour chatting afterwards she didn’t even hover around our table trying to push us out.
My go-to Vietnamese dish is the chicken banh mi. I love the Good Girl’s version of this personal favorite: tender chicken breast and cilantro mayo mixed with the salty Maggi sauce (typically splashed over dark-meat chicken in banh mi), with a soft, crusty baguette. The effect was like a Vietnamese version of a Cuban sandwich (cubano)! I just had to try the excellent slaw with my banh mi as well (sadly, cabbage also qualifies as an exotic food for me). I also tried the delicious tofu pho, which comes in a smaller “pint” size. The pho was brought to the table quickly, and was the perfect first course.
We originally planned to come to the Good Girl to try the porridges. They were out of porridge. To me, this always signals the legitimacy of a restaurant’s signature dish. You can bet that, on a weekend night, the Good Girl was loaded to the gills with porridge (the server attested to this when she admitted that she ate some during her break). Similarly, I have the worst luck getting a sticky bun at the excellent “Urth Caffe”, because they are the bomb and covered in candied pecans. But, I keep going back to Urth anyway because everything else is top-notch as well.
I can’t wait to come back to the Good Girl for that porridge. Even if they are out of porridge again, I would happily order anything else on the menu. After all, it’s good to shake up your routine now and then.
The Good Girl Dinette is in a unique location in Highland Park, notable in that it is the only storefront without graffiti-style signage. Half a block away on Figueroa is a movie theatre that plays second-run movies for $3, and plenty of opportunities to skate waxy ledges.
But, I was so delirious with hunger that I got hopelessly lost somewhere out in El Sereno. I took a wrong turn and managed to come face to face in East LA with a coyote holding a plastic take-out bag in his mouth: I skated around the corner, and saw this mangy little fella pop out of the bushes on a dark, empty street. I jumped off of my board and had a brief staring contest with him from maybe 15-20 yards. It seemed like the hair on his back was starting to stick up and he was lowering his head and giving me his best “The Shining” look. The coyote trotted towards me slowly, and then took off up the street. I want to know what was in that bag… was it porridge?
Most skaters have bad luck with dogs (I was bitten by a dog when I was skating yesterday). There’s something about the vibration and noise of skateboards that really pisses dogs off. I feared for a second that a coyote would especially have a strong reaction towards me skating (after all, coyotes aren’t really hampered by society’s restrictive rules about dog behavior), so I was scared for my life. It turns out that maybe coyotes don’t care about skateboards that much.
Try to avoid dogs when you’re skating, they are obviously unpredictable. And, don’t skate on an empty stomach.