Continuing our quest to sample the food of my favorite reality show contestants, we headed over to Santa Monica the other day to meet up with a friend at The Yard, helmed by Top Chef alum Chef Chris Jacobson (also known as "CJ," also known as the most likeable Top Chef contender ever, from the most entertaining season).
The Yard is the opposite of pretentious - cozy and casual, it's a perfect place to unwind with a beer and a few plates of comfort food. The food is perfect for sharing and the atmosphere is reflected in the attitude of Chef CJ, who could be seen running food to tables alongside the servers.
We arrived at the tail end of Happy Hour, and since we were still waiting for our friend, we decided to snap up the happy hour deal for $6 fish tacos (below, left), with crème fraiche cumin slaw, guacamole, pickled jalapeno salsa. They were really tasty - light, refreshing, and flavorful, with a nice bright little bite of spice. Once the remaining member of our party was seated, we got down to business. More firmly on the side of "artery-clogging" was the Fried Chicken - an original recipe, served with bacon collard greens, and cornbread (below, right). While I think I still prefer the unbreaded Korean version, The Yard offers a really good iteration of Southern fried chicken. We drenched the crispy chicken in the accompanying honey and were bound for heaven.
We tried to lighten things up with the Jaime Farms beets salad, which was generously topped with grilled avocado, garrotxa cheese, radish, lettuce, hazelnuts (below). We don't find grilled avocados on the menu nearly enough, so this salad from The Yard was a delightful treat, and there's no better pairing for the creamy green fruit than hazelnuts.
One step forward, two steps back. We countered the lightness of that dish with fried pig ear, with harissa aioli, honey, and pickles (below). The texture was a bit off-putting at first, really, really chewy, but it's hard to deny the deliciousness of fried pork - the little slivers of fried goodness were gone in no time.
Next up, we went for the crispy duck confit, grilled Reiger Farms pear, long beans, and hazelnut (below). This was a great combination of decadence and lightness - the succulent, salty, crisped confit was perfect with the refreshing slices of pear and long beans.
All three of us agreed that we had to get the Mac 'n' Cheese with pancetta, sauteed market kale, and crispy bread crumbs (below). All three of us conceded that it was worth it. It was both creamy and rich without being overly heavy and was generously portioned enough that we could greedily accept seconds.
We ended by splitting an order of the chocolate cake, pretzels, PB ganache, charred marshmallow, and pretzel ice cream. Pretzel is definitely going in the queue of flavors that we make at home. Here it was a playful addition to a unique array of flavors that all came together for an excellent finish. We were stuffed.
Did I mention it's the perfect place to unwind? Mark was more than happy to work his way down their beer list (I think I heard him quietly singing, my craft brew brings all the boys to the yard...). The Yard features a great selection of bottled brews as well as a rotating chalk board of craft beers on tap. Combine that with the quality food served here and you'll have a difficult time finding a more perfect gastropub. And thus, Chef CJ continues his reign as one of my Top Chefs.