Dig into downtime with updated eats and fantastic cocktails at Chez Jay’s brand-new patio
By Angela Matano
The Backyard at Chez Jay, 1657 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica (310) 395-1741 chezjays.com
So it turns out some things do get better with age. The iconic bar and restaurant Chez Jay, kitty-corner from the Santa Monica Pier, doubled in size this month by adding a delightful outdoor space — The Backyard — which opened Aug. 15.
Serving locals and celebrities since 1959 (which makes for a nice and even 60 years), Chez Jay is a veritable historic landmark. The recent expansion has been in the works since before the city opened the adjacent Tongva Park in 2013, a super charming backdrop for the space. The patio kind of looks like a tricked-out … well, backyard. Relaxed and informal, with wooden captain’s chairs, wine barrel tables, and pretty strings of lights, the setting invites diners to hang out with friends and stay awhile. There’s even a fire pit and heat lamps, making this spot work through fall and even into winter.
Beyond the warm atmosphere, The Backyard also serves solid food and drinks. Chef Guillermo De Arcos G, a 27-year veteran of Chez Jay, cooks alongside his son, Guillermo De Arcos Jr. They’ve created a new menu that’s a mix of classic American and Mexican food, with a personal twist.
Most of the items on offer, from starters to mains, beg to be shared. The peppercorn maple bacon comes in strips both crispy and chewy. A few chomps go a long way to satisfy cravings. Another standout is the grilled street corn, a.k.a. elote — a perfect fit for the space, redolent of summer barbecues past. Juicy and a little bit spicy, slathered with cream and dusted in chili powder, these cobs are almost, but not quite, virtuous.
Guacamole, always a welcome treat, comes with the surprising addition of kimchi — a sly nod to chef Roy Choi’s famous Kogi Truck. Other treats skewing South of the Border include shrimp ceviche bites and southwest steak nachos.
For those looking to maintain their waistline, lighter fare can be found as well. Three salads adorn the menu, all large enough to be a full meal. The classic Cobb and New York steak salads come with a good mix of flavors and ingredients, a lemon-honey vinaigrette on the former and cranberries and pickled onions on the latter. The third choice features crispy calamari, frisée and radicchio.
The Backyard’s main dishes cover familiar and welcome territory, including a wide array of sandwiches, as well as fish-and-chips. There’s a burger, a grilled 10-inch wagyu hot dog, a mahi-mahi sandwich, a patty melt, a crispy chicken sandwich, and even a steak au poivre.
Enough about the food. The cocktails are no joke at Chez Jay and, as expected, fantastic at The Backyard. The signature cocktails emphasize fresh ingredients and beachy flavors, cruising on the hang-out vibe of enjoying the outdoors. The gin-heavy Hotel California marries rosemary and grapefruit to perfection, lively and bracing at the same time.
Perfect with all the Mexican fare, the Juan Margarita takes it up a notch with the addition of fresh cilantro, jalapeño and cucumber. Not too sweet and extremely refreshing, the cocktails here could get you into real trouble. They go down so easily; pace yourself and Uber home.
With rents skyrocketing, a lot of us on the Westside can’t afford gardens of our own. Lucky for us, The Backyard provides a place to hang out and live it up while enjoying the ocean breeze. Kick back, listen to “Brown Eyed Girl” and stay awhile.