The first thing you notice upon walking into Yard House -- the new upscale bar at west Houston's CityCentre -- is the beer. Purposefully, of course, as the California-based chain likes to claim that it has the "world's largest selection of draft beer." Rows of colorful, gleaming taps take center stage here, ringed by leather booths and tall pub-style tables. The rest of the interior is dimly, almost romantically, lit, while the taps are spotlighted like the center ring of a circus.
With all those taps, you'd think the bar really does have the largest array of beer in town. But that's not entirely true. We recently counted 105 beers on draft at downtown's Flying Saucer (yes, it took a while) and just as many available by the bottle, so we'll ignore for now Yard House's claim that -- with only 100 beers on tap, it has the largest selection in the world -- and move on to what it does have in spades: food.
We tried at least 20 dishes this past Saturday night at a media preview event and only made a dent in approximately a quarter of the menu. Our favorite dish of the night was easily the seared ahi sashimi with soy vinaigrette, wasabi and pickled ginger. While it wasn't of the quality you'd get in a restaurant like Kubo's or Kata Robata, it was extremely good for bar food. There is a distinct Pacific influence on the menu, from spicy tuna rolls and edamame to Korean barbeque beef and Hawaiian poke stack. It's a refreshing change from most bar menus, which are heavy on fried items and limp pizzas.
Yard House doesn't really do either of those, but it does turn out some decent pizza. The crusts were exceptionally thick and crispy even if the toppings were lacking some oomph. Of course, if it's absolutely crucial to have wings and such with your beer, Yard House has those too. And we've barely covered even half of the appetizer list.
One of the discouraging things, however, is not just the breadth and depth of the needlessly vast menu -- which is an instant red flag that most items aren't prepared fresh to order -- but the lack of vegetarian options. Even the macaroni and cheese isn't suitable for our veggie friends -- it contains chicken -- and just about the only things they can eat on the menu are the previously mentioned soybeans and a few of the entree salads.
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However, if you're a carnivore, Yard House seems dead-set on pleasing your palate with over-the-top items ranging from a Surf & Turf Burger with Maine lobster to a full plate of New Zealand lamb chops. As we said, this isn't your typical bar food menu.
But what will you be drinking with your béarnaise slider or porcini-crusted halibut? The waiters and bartenders have an admittedly good knowledge of the 100 beers on draft, instantly answering our requests for "something hoppy with a low alcohol content" with a Kona Fire Rock Pale Ale and "something sort of malty and sweet" with a creamy Gösser Dark. If you're feeling adventurous, they also offer beer floats made with vanilla ice cream and your choice of Young's Chocolate Stout or Lindeman's Framboise. We didn't try those, being full of tuna and Kona Fire by the time dessert o'clock rolled around.
Sure, there are other alcoholic beverages on the menu, things like wine and some perilously twee-sounding "martinis" with names like "Bikini Tini" and "Pink Paradise." Don't. Okay? Just don't. If you're at Yard House at all, you're here for the beer. Don't screw this up.
We liked the overall concept of Yard House, even if the prices were a little too rich for our blood and the location a little too far away to draw us out there on a consistent basis. That said, it will surely be a success in the west Houston area, which is shamefully devoid of decent brewpubs. And we'll probably be back for that Young's Double Chocolate beer float -- even if we could make it at home -- just for the fun of it.