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On Tap With a Twofer

March 02, 1997|S. IRENE VIRBILA

Within hailing distance of the Queen Mary, the Yard House at Shoreline Village in Long Beach is really two restaurants in one. It takes its name from the yard and half-yard beer glasses that hang above the Tap Room bar. The huge oval bar offers 180 beers on tap, a selection billed as the world's largest. (Certification from the Guinness Book of Records is pending.) Four miles of refrigerated piping carries brew from a climate-controlled keg room that stores a whopping 6,500 gallons. Fortunately, the resident yahoos and young professionals seem to have a powerful thirst. They crowd the high-tech bar, watch sports on the 14 screens and try to shout above the din of the sound system. (If you like quiet, try the "beer garden" overlooking the marina.)

Any of the imports from Germany, England, Belgium and New Zealand, plus the ales, porters and novelty brews from mostly California and Oregon micro-breweries, can be ordered by the pint, half-yard or yard glass. The last of these, literally three feet tall and able to hold an astonishing 48 ounces, requires a $20 refundable deposit--and some practice to drink from. I see one guy prop his long glass across the table while lounging with his girlfriend in a booth for six. This might be why pints are popular.

Despite the dizzying selection, some diehards remain true to Bud Light. Still, it's a shame that the servers aren't better versed in their beers. When I ask a young waitress, her midriff bared between her skimpy top and her apron, all I can wrest from her is the suggestion that we try a hazelnut beer and a raspberry ale. Not on your life. Luckily, a separate menu describes most of the brews.

If you're hungry, this is where the Tap Room fails miserably. I've sampled the appetizers and main courses, and my best advice is to stick with the roasted peanuts. And maybe the mildly spiced chicken and andouille sausage gumbo, the roasted artichoke with insipid "Cajun" aioli or the vinegar and salt fries. Everything else is almost inedible: a soggy sausage and pepperoni pizza; gristly "Thai" chicken wings painted red with marinade and inexplicably served with ranch dressing; greasy fish and chips in beer batter. The banger, however, does come with good mashed potatoes.

The other half of the Yard House is the sedate Chop Room, with a small martini lounge of armchairs where trendy cigar smokers can enjoy drinks and stogies. This side of the restaurant has a sober, subdued look: black tablecloths (ours had a cigarette hole in it), high-backed booths that curiously face away from the view and soft lighting. The affable maitre d' doubles as the sommelier, ready to advise on the mostly California wine list.

The menu features prime aged steaks and chops and fresh fish flown in from Hawaii. It also has classic fare such as raw oysters, shrimp cocktail and salads. Bread is an unusual whole-wheat Afghan flatbread with a yogurt and pomegranate seed dipping sauce. The thick slices of out-of-season tomatoes with sweet Maui onions and blue cheese dressing and the hearts of romaine with Gorgonzola and walnuts both make decent starters. But "classic" prawn cocktail is four flavorless shrimp on a pile of greens, and fried calamari are limp and heavily battered.

Good entrees are hard to come by as well. Both the New York and the filet steaks seem a bit mushy, far less compelling than the gratin potatoes they're served with. Pork chops are too salty, and the New Zealand lamb chops arrive coated in an awful sweet glaze. The best fish dish is grilled mahi-mahi in a ginger crust.

With a display case of hats and T-shirts bearing the Yard House logo, this place seems poised for cloning. Which could be why it's more concept than content. Sure, the Tap Room boasts more than 150 beers, but what can you eat? And the Chop Room, for all its pretensions, has about as much soul as a corporate dining room.

*

THE YARD HOUSE

CUISINE: American. AMBIENCE: The Tap Room, with 180 beers on tap, TV screens and loud music, and the Chop Room, with martini lounge, tablecloths and sommelier. BEST DISHES: The plainer, the better. BEER PICK: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, California. FACTS: 401 Shoreline Drive, Long Beach; (310) 628-0455. Dinner for two, food only, $14 to $30 in Tap Room (open daily), $52 to $92 in Chop Room (closed Mondays). Corkage $10. Parking in lot.

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