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First Look at The Craftsman, Soft-Open in Santa Monica

The CraftsmanPhoto: Tatiana Arbogast

Santa Monica's The Yard was a solid hangout for beer-lovers on weeknights, slider-lovers during happy hour, and the ocean-side pick-up set come weekends. In 2009, Top Chef stringbean C.J. Jacobson was named the restaurant's chef, boosting its status as a culinary destination with help from his gastro-pub riffs and late-night menus. With owners sensing the need for a change, The Yard closed on January 1 and was reborn this week as The Craftsman, with a more open, urban cottage style and pastel color scheme that winks to the area's beach culture. Gone are the high communal tables that cut your sight-line of the be-suited barmen, replaced by an arrangement of comfy couches, stand-up games, and an old school Pac-Man machine that give the room more of the vibe of a plush den.

Chef Alex Caves, who stepped up after C.J. split in early 2012, is still developing his menus for a grand-opening later this month, retaining the restaurant's juicy sliders, making his own smoked ketchup and spicy mustard, employing beet sugar in several dishes, and striking a nice balance between comfort food and chefy attention with bites like PRB-battered onion rings, house-smoked and pickled vegetables, taco dip, and a "Breakfast for Dinner" sausage slider with maple-sherry gastrique.

What are definitely quite solid at the moment are the bar's cocktails, spelled out on a list of fourteen classics made quickly and correctly, from a faithful "Hemingway daquiri" to a strawberry, basil, and Tito's vodka combination known as "Strawberry Fields."

Take a look at the new space, sliders, and cocktails at The Craftsman, now soft open in Santa Monica, in our slide show.

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