Carla Meyer

Dining review: Beer and ahi are Yard House highlights

I was nervous. I had been told by more than a few reliable sources that the wait would be 45 minutes or more, and I really don't like waiting for food that might not be, well, worth the wait.

Is the food at Yard House worth the wait? Absolutely not.

Is it even the least bit interesting? Not unless you count the hamburger, which was so dry, overcooked and tough I didn't know whether to eat it or wind up for a slap shot.

At its best, the food at this wildly popular and overhyped restaurant and beer house chain is mediocre – with the exception of a few delightful seared ahi dishes. Yard House, which opened this spring at the Fountains in Roseville, has 127 beers on tap, including one called Moose Drool, which is how I might describe the sauce on the barbecue ribs.

At its worst, Yard House oversells and under-delivers. Everything is described as "amazing," and what's not amazing is "awesome."

When we met our server, she asked us if this was our first visit to Yard House.

"Yes."

"Awesome."

When I asked for some recommendations from the menu, she told us the mac 'n' cheese was amazing. So I ordered the mac 'n' cheese, only to be amazed by how bland and greasy it was.

The halibut, too, was sold to me as "amazing." It was merely decent, if overcooked and underseasoned. The asparagus would never be mistaken for "farm fresh" and the bok choy was so tough it was nearly impossible to eat. Porcini mushroom sauce? It was a potentially interesting choice with halibut, but the flavor was so uninspired it wouldn't make a moose drool.

Part of the problem with the food at Yard House has to do with focus – there isn't any. It wants to do pizza, and it wants to have Asian flavors on one of its pizzas. It wants to do steak, seafood, sandwiches of all kinds, salads.

One thing that stands out: the prices.

On our first exuberant visit, two of us dropped $101 for dinner before tip, including a steak and prawns dinner that was fair (though the grilled prawns were good) and the aforementioned halibut. Prices for many of the entrees rival those at the area's best restaurants.

On another occasion, the Cuban roast pork dip sandwich was dry, but it came with a dipping sauce, or jus, that made it edible. The crab cake hoagie was terrible – crab cakes with too much bready filler slapped into a sandwich.

The vegetarian section of the menu is for people who hate meat but don't really like vegetables. The focal point of the meatless dishes is a trademarked product, Gardein, made of soy, wheat and pea proteins. The spicy faux-chicken sandwich was decent, though a far cry from the faux-meat dishes at a place like Andy Nguyen's on Broadway.

The overall feel of the Yard House is a bright spot, as are the friendly and energetic servers.

The huge square bar is a nice place to hang out, whether you're eating or drinking. The dining area, formerly occupied by the pricey garden equipment supplier Smith & Hawken, has a roomy, casual elegance with touches of industrial-warehouse design.

This joint also knows how to sear and serve ahi. If I ever found myself eager for a meal and willing to wait an hour or more while standing under a blazing sun, I would get everything on the menu that even mentioned ahi. The Ahi Poke Bowl with crispy wontons was subtle, soothing and delicious as a starter. The Spicy Tuna Roll, which our server warned us was not served, thankfully, like a sushi-style roll, was even better. It was a big bold and beautiful stack of food, with slices of avocado making the bites of seared ahi even smoother and creamier.

And how to wash it all down? Let me count the ways. Except, I frown upon getting arrested, losing my license, endangering civilized society and hiring a clever lawyer to get me out of a jam, so I showed restraint when ordering beer. Yard House has something called a "half yard" glass, which is about the size of the lower half of a moose's leg. I figured one of those might put me dangerously close to a DUI, so I went with a pint. But what to get? I recognized some of the beers, including Bud Light and Stella Artois, though I wanted to go with something a tad more difficult to pronounce, if not more adventurous in taste.

One night, because I was going to eat halibut, I bypassed my hankering for a nicely poured Guinness and went with something lighter, a white ale called Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat. Our server, a young woman, immediately grinned and nodded. My instincts told me I was in trouble. And I was.

"Good choice. We call that the 'Fruity Pebbles' beer," she told me.

With 126 other choices, I knew I could do better, including Moose Drool, which is actually a well-regarded brown ale that has hints of chocolate, caramel and coffee.

Under the listing for pale lagers, the Kona Longboard was nicely balanced with an appealing bitterness and a floral finish. Under India pale ales, which are known for their upfront bitterness, the Anderson Valley Hop Ottin packed a punch and didn't remind me of any 1980s children's breakfast cereals.

Desserts were not a disaster, but they were close. The soufflés were as puffy and plump as an old pillow. By the time we dug into the lemon soufflé it had flattened completely.

The brownie, we were told, was 10 times better than the brownie at nearby BJ's, which apparently was the gold standard in baked goods until Yard House muscled its way onto the Roseville scene.

Alas, the small print on the menu said it would take an extra 15 minutes to prepare, which would be tacked on to the other 45 minutes of waiting I will never get back.

The brownies I make at home generally bake for 22 minutes and cool for another 30, with about 15 minutes in prep time, so I didn't know what to make of this.

Except: Judging from the rest of my Yard House experience, I decided not to wait.

Yard House1166 Roseville Parkway, Roseville

(916) 780-9273

www.yardhouse.com

Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday-Thursday and Sunday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Full bar? Beer and wine.

Takeout? Yes.

Vegetarian friendly? Yes.

Overall 1 1/2 stars (subpar)

The newest addition to the large and elegant Fountains at Roseville shopping center, Yard House is already a major success, thanks to its inviting atmosphere, friendly service and huge beer selection. The food, on the other hand, is a disappointment.

Food 1 1/2 stars (subpar)

The menu is big and not focused enough, resulting in a dining experience that won't please discriminating diners, whether it's from food that is prepared haphazardly or a menu that takes you all over the place. The beer selection is merely big – very big – though its size suggests it is more into showing off than demonstrating a thoughtful list.

Service 2 1/2 stars (pretty good)

From the friendly greeting to the fond farewell, the servers were energetic and hardworking. We can forgive their admirable but unwarranted enthusiasm for the food.

Ambience 2 1/2 stars (pretty good)

Wear sunscreen, because if you show up at peak times, you may have to wait outside for an hour or more. Once inside, the huge, industrial-chic room and massive bar are attractive. The energy is OK, but the overall feel lacks an identity.

Value 1 1/2 stars (subpar)

One dinner for two with one beer each and dessert was $101, as in ouch! That's pricey for food that is occasionally decent but generally lacks style, creativity or soul.

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