Occasionally this little hobby of mine presents me with interesting opportunities to try new places a little early, usually as a member of the media. I always chuckle a little at being referred to as a member of the media, but I guess it makes sense. Sort of. Anyway, most of these events seem to happen on weekday afternoons, and since I still can't seem to pay my bills by writing about restaurants, I still have a day job and usually can't attend. That's why I was so excited when I was asked if I would like to attend an invite-only preview of the new Yard House restaurant at The Village at Meridian Friday evening. I've been keeping a close eye on the eateries slated to open in that megaplaza over the next few months, and Yard House was definitely the one that caught my interest the most. This is not a full-on review (that will come later once I've actually had the chance to eat a normal meal there), but I'll share some impressions and some really dark pictures with you in the meantime...
Yard House has a nice pub atmosphere, with muted lights and dark woods. Nice for dining in, not so much for taking pictures in. The music was mostly old rock songs with a few newer ones laced throughout, which would have been fine if it weren't quite so loud. I mean it was really loud. I'm hoping that was done to contribute to the party atmosphere and the volume will be lowered a bit for normal service. Between that and the huge crowd, we (I took my Mom to the event, who's a better designated driver than mom, eh?) had to raise our voices to converse the entire time we were there. Luckily, there were plenty of things on hand to soothe my throat. Let's just jump right into it, shall we?
Martini: Classic gin, I had two of these and neither one came with so much as an olive or a slice of lemon peel. Odd, but they still got the job done.
Mai Tai: That one was Mom's. I didn't think to try it, but she polished it off fairly quickly so I'm guessing it was a decent example of its breed.
Shitake Garlic Noodles: This was my first bite of the night, and wound up being one of my favorite things. Just a simple blend of butter, garlic, noodles and thin-sliced mushroom sprinkled with parmesan, but with a good, strong flavor.
Penne with Chicken: This is part of the "house favorites" section of the menu, and samples seemed to be making the rounds more often than the rest of the offerings. Pasta, chicken, asparagus and sun dried tomato in a marsala cream sauce and a dusting of parmesan. Personally I prefer stronger flavors, but a lot of people will like this quite a bit.
Brazilian Lemonade: I was nervous about this and was expecting it to be very sweet, so I was surprised by how balanced it was. According to the menu, the recipe is Cruzan citrus rum, Cointreau, lemonade, Monin Mojito Mix, fresh lemon and mint.
Non-specific cheeseburger: It doesn't get simpler than bread, meat and cheese, but when you can do a burger that's as beautifully crusty and seared on the outside and as pink and juicy on the inside as this one was, simple is all you need. A full-sized burger is probably one of the first things I'll order when I return.
Grilled Sweet Korean BBQ Beef: That's really all you need to say, right? This was a good dish, but probably nothing I would actually order when there are so many other things on their menu that are more intriguing.
Cherry Limeade: Skyy Infusions cherry vodka, Amaretto Di Saronno, sweet and sour, fresh lime. I was a little afraid that this would be overly sweet, but it was actually just a little tart, and that black cherry they garnish it with is outrageously good. Definitely my favorite drink of the night.
Firecracker Wings (boneless): This was hands-down my favorite item of the night. Imagine a giant, crispy, juicy piece of popcorn chicken tossed in a mildly spicy sesame garlic plum glaze and topped with scallions. Absolutely delicious. I could eat an entire plate of these things. And I probably will.
Southern Fried Chicken Breast: Boneless and skinless, served over spinach and corn mashed potatoes and topped with a bourbon gravy. This is another dish I wouldn't mind trying the full version of.
Seared Ahi Sashimi: Despite the fact that I'm not certain searing it doesn't render it non-sashimi, this was very good and I'm pretty sure it was my mother's favorite dish of the night. Lightly blackened and served with soy vinaigrette.
Escalade Margarita: 1800 silver tequila, Cointreau, Hpnotiq, sweet & sour, fresh lime & orange, rimmed with sugar. This was the only thing I had all night that I actively disliked. It's my own fault though, I'd never had Hpnotiq before so I should have asked about it. Knowing that it's cognac-based would have given me pause.
Summer Salad: I loved this. Romaine, strawberries, avocado, oranges, candied walnuts, leeks and spiced balsamic vinaigrette. It's on their appetizer salad list, so I expect I'll be pairing it with some of the other things I'll be going back to try.
Chicken Tinga Taco: The spiciest thing we had that night. Mom didn't like it, I did. Chipotle tomato sauce, cabbage, feta cheese, cilantro and cumin crema (I ADORE cumin). I have a hard time thinking of it as a taco since it was served on something more flatbread than tortilla, but it was still a fine dish.
Kronenbourg 1664: In all honesty, I'm not much of a beer guy, but since Yard House is kind of known for their large selection of taps I figured I should try one. Lagers are usually safe, so I chose the one with the highest alcohol content and called it good. I dug it quite a bit, and a little research later taught me that it's the best-selling premium lager in France.
Pepperoni & Mushroom Pizza: Pretty standard bar pizza, a decent example of its ilk.
Moo Shu Egg Roll: To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about this one. I just don't think two bites was enough for me to really determine how I feel about these (I'm kind of an egg roll traditionalist), but I know at least one person who raved about them. They were starting to grow on me, and then my sample was gone. I'll probably have to order them again myself sometime, and maybe you should as well if they sound like your cup of tea? Chicken, chili cream cheese, carrots, green onions, cilantro, spinach, and apple ginger plum sauce.
Hawaiian Poke Stack: Marinated raw ahi on crispy sesame wonton, carrot, daikon radish and wasabi soy sauce. I loved that this wasn't over-dressed and I could still taste the fish. It was the last thing I had, and raw fish is always a good way to end the night for me.
It may seem like I'm damning a few of these dishes with faint praise, but consider that this was a chain restaurant on opening weekend that was completely swamped (seriously, people were hovering like vultures waiting for tables to be freed up) and putting out a lot of different tapas-sized plates and a full drink menu. It's more impressive to realize that not a single thing was bad, several things were damn good, and all will even probably be vastly improved when they're served fresh rather than being divided up into bite-sized portions and toted back and forth like hors d'oeuvres at a wedding reception. Speaking of the staff, I was amazed how well they tiptoed through the chaos and still managed to keep their game faces on, so much so that I'd say their pleasantness was as integral to the experience as the best of the food and drinks. I expect them to kick ass at normal service. You can see for yourself, as Yard House opens to the general public today. I heartily recommend checking them out.