Monday, July 20, 2009

Dining at The Yard with Kids

I cook for my family most least I do when MetaDaddy's home. This week has been more about surviving, so I'll take up any offer to eat out. But I still go to my usual farmers' markets because it's a treat I just don't want to give up. The fruit, vegetables, and's just all too perfect.

My take on food is that if I buy something that's fresh and tasty, I'm better off doing as little as possible to it. Weiser Farms Cavaillon melons, Fitzerald Farms nectarines, Rutiz Farms Galante can I improve perfection?

When I see a restaurant that boasts of using farmers' market fresh produce, it makes me happy. I love seeing these wonderful ingredients incorporated into a clever ensemble by someone with much more culinary talent than myself. But I'm usually disappointed. I hear the word "farmers' market," but I don't see it on my plate. Grr.

Well...that brings me to a curious incident involving 3 things I mildly obsess about: the Santa Monica farmers' market, local restaurants, and Top Chef. And this is where I get sheepish. I'm generally just a reserved person. I keep to myself. As obvious by my wordy blog, I've got plenty to say, I just don't always say it in "real life."

So, I'm walking down the street in Santa Monica pushing MetaGirl in her stroller. I'm about to step off the curb onto the pedestrian street, but it's a tight squeeze since I'll be maneuvering through two parked trucks. As I'm managing, a tall someone comes walking through, and I decide it best to move...I didn't want a trampling incident. I look up (way up...he's tall), and I saw someone familiar. (This is where fame can be a pain in the butt.) "Oh!! That's CJ from Top Chef!" So, I ranted into the void that is Twitter, as one does.
To: CJ from Top Chef. Dude, I know you're tall, but really? Are you too tall to see some people, even if they have a stroller?
Then, I forgot about it. But a few days ago, I get a reply from...CJ! :-o
BigCeej: @MetaMommy I'm sorry. Come to my restaurant, The Yard. I'll cook for you.
After some hemming and hawing, I asked a friend who is similarly Top Chef aware if she'd like to join me and the wee twosome. She accepted, so we went. That's when I turned all shades of red. In the restaurant as I admitted to be the one, the only...MetaMommy. It's kind of a stupid name to admit to in "real life." I'm glad there were lots of other things to keep me distracted, like needy kids.

So we chatted for a bit, and he told us about his food. CJ, aka Chris Jacobsen, has recently taken over and has reworked the menu to feature fresh farmers' market food. He's minimizing freezer space, improving the look and ambiance of the dining room/bar, keeping prices reasonable, and generally changing the nature of what "pub food" is in Santa Monica. It doesn't have to be frozen or deep fried to be good with a drink.

We had a few small dishes. I'm not going to pretend I know food like some people know food. I don't have a refined palate, nor do I obsess about details. I just know if I like it or not, and I enjoyed the food. Though I was impressed by some of the lovely farmers' ingredients, like the Cavaillon melon (a super juicy, flavorful melon that looks like a cantaloupe, but puts it to shame...poor cantaloupe). I also know he shops from the farmers because...well, that's where we had our "run in." If he's shopping there, you know the food will be fresh and seasonal.

My personal favorite were the fish tacos, which I'm still craving. As my friend pointed out, it would be a lighter option if it was a soft taco, but it was still mighty tasty. And even closer to my heart is a restaurant's tolerance of young kids. Despite having 2 young kids in high chairs in a place that had previously been popularized as a bar with bar food, there were plenty of healthy options for them and I didn't feel like a nuisance for having my kids or stroller. The only way to survive eating out with young kids it to find a way to keep kids content, which is hard enough for parents without feeling challenged by staff. With us, all of the staff were great. And MetaGirl, always one to make herself known, got all sorts of wonderful attention.

Overall, it was a pleasant experience. It's 1/2 a block from the beach with a patio, allowing a nice beachy view. Fresh, seasonal food that isn't too fussy. Yes, it's a bar, but don't be put off by it. And a nice getaway for a quick bite or a full meal, even if you have kids. The Third Street Promenade is a couple of blocks away (on Third between Broadway and Wilshire), but I can't think of one restaurant I would recommend to anyone. It's the little places, like this one, that are off the Promenade that are worth visiting.

In the effort of full disclosure, CJ did comp the meal (completely unnecessary, but very appreciated!). However, that was due to the above mentioned trampling incident. He was apologetic and really nice about it. And I'm pretty sure that I was more embarrassed about it than he was. After all, I'm the one who goes by MetaMommy ;-)

The Yard
119 Broadway (between Ocean and 2nd Street)
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 395-6037