The Living Room in Chandler a worthy drinking/dining destination

Chandler can be pretty darn cool. Just take a look at The Living Room, a happening indoor/outdoor bar with an attractive wait staff, tasty sangria and om nom nommable eats. Now that I work in Chandler full-time, it’s quickly become my favorite go-to for happy hour and lunch, with a vibe that’s more downtown Phoenix than family-filled suburbs.

The Living Room in Chandler

The place is open and airy, with the indoors spilling out to the patio, no wall dividing the two. Dark wood and burnt orange furniture decorate the space, with the funky color scheme giving the spot a Mediterranean vibe. Comfy couches surrounded by fireplaces outside are perfect for lounging, while high-tops and an expansive bar with sports televisions inside give drinkers and diners more options.

The Living Room in Chandler

The place gets packed during “normal” happy hour time, but if you’re a day drinker, you’re in luck, since happy hour prices are available from open to 6 p.m. Definitely try a glass of sangria ($5 during happy hour) – I loved the red version I got, since it was really fruity but strong. There’s an extensive wine list, as well as a mixed cocktail selection, if fruity sangria isn’t your thing.

The food at The Living Room is also mighty tasty. The Caprese sandwich ($9.95), with thick mozzarella, a pesto sauce, juicy grape tomatoes and a balsamic glaze that perfectly ties everything together, is delicious. I love it with a mixed green salad with lemon caper vinaigrette – the salad reminds me of another favorite salad of mine, at The Main Ingredient in Phoenix.

Caprese sandwich at The Living Room

Even if you don’t live in Chandler, I’d say The Living Room is a destination spot and should entice you to venture out South if you don’t usually head that direction. Find more info here.

Arizona Pro Arte a beautiful orchestra/dance pairing

Orchestral music + ballet-infused modern dance = awesome. That describes the latest show by Arizona Pro Arte, a local orchestra that combines classical and modern works with visual art. I checked them out last night at Tempe Center for the Arts, where they performed with their own AZ Pro Arte Dance Ensemble for some of the works.

Arizona Pro ArteThe 40-piece orchestra’s Apotheosis of the Dance concert featured Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, along with two modern composers’ works, Michael-Thomas Foumai’s The Divine Comedy: Paradiso, and Aharon Harlap’s Sinfonia Breve. Every year, Arizona Pro Arte conducts a Call for Scores competition, where composers from around the world may enter to have their piece performed for the Arizona masses – these were two of the winners from that competition.

Arizona Pro ArteLike all of their performances, the ensemble played beautifully, entrancing audience members with their deftness and passion while playing. The dancers in the second act were a really fun touch. They went through several costume changes and performed a variety of dance styles, and the fact the choreography was specialized just for these new, innovative orchestral works was really neat.

Arizona Pro Arte is gearing up to kick off their summer season, Saturday, July 5, with a patriotic music-themed show paired with singer/actor/comedian Hector Coris. Learn more about Arizona Pro Arte founder Timothy Verville here on Phoenix People, and find out more details about shows here.

Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails introduces delectable spring/summer menu

It’s always a treat to visit Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails, whether you’re feasting on innovative creations by Chef Stephen Jones, who pours love into every dish, or sipping on one of the delicious handcrafted cocktails for happy hour. I was invited to try some of the newest offerings on Jones’ current spring/summer menu, made with organic and locally sourced ingredients that perfectly complement each other for a symphony in your mouth.

This meal (thank you to J. Lauren PR for the invitation), my pal Elle and I grabbed a seat outside on the patio, overlooking CityScape in downtown Phoenix.

Blue Hound Kitchen

Not only was the weather perfect, we could hear tunes from neighboring Copper Blues. Like Elle pointed out, the music was great because it provided great background melodies that allowed us to still hear what each other was saying.

Like all my visits at Blue Hound, the service, from the hostess to every single server who visited our table (including the knowledgeable and friendly Justis), was top-notch. Kudos to Blue Hound for properly training their staff in menu proficiency and professionalism.

We started with two delicious drinks – the Singapore Sling ($10) was made with Arizona Distilling Co. gin, Bénédictine, pineapple juice, lemon juice, and Cherry Heering liqueur. Justis told us the drink is modeled after original Tiki drinks, and we both agreed the balance of sweet and sour was great.

Singapore Sling Blue Hound Kitchen

I also got the Lost Melody ($10), a frothy concoction with Smirnoff vodka, grapefruit liquer, coconut cream, grapefruit juice, and rose flower water. It tasted like dessert in a drink, which was totally fine with me, and I loved inhaling the coconut scents with every tasty sip.

Lost Melody Blue Hound Kitchen

My pal and I split a ton of plates, perfectly portioned for sharing, during our feast. First up was the Cured Strawberry and Fennel Flatbread ($14), with pickeled fennel (a favorite ingredient of Chef Jones – read my Phoenix People interview with him here), pistachio, wild baby arugula and ricotta cheese. I’ve never had strawberries on a pizza, but let me tell you, the flatbread was delicious and tasted just like what you’d think of when it comes to spring.

Cured Strawberry and Fennel Flatbread Blue Hound Kitchen

We also dug into the Avocado salad ($9), with blood oranges, grapefruit and wild greens. Elle described it perfectly as “chic diet food,’” a light and fresh salad you could feel good eating right before a night out or before getting into a swimsuit, since it was healthy and light. I loved the fruit and avocado combination and gobbled up every bite.

Avocado salad Blue Hound Kitchen

Elle loved the Tater Tots she ordered (a small portion at $7), which had bacon and chive made right in the tots. “These are every college kid’s wet dream,” she said, noting the bacon baked in was a spectacular touch.

Tater Tots Blue Hound Kitchen

We both enjoyed the Corn Bread Panzanella ($9), a bread salad with artichoke, fava beans, baby leeks, and peas mixed with an herb vinaigrette. It was really filing and would be a great appetizer to share.

Corn Bread Panzanella Blue Hound Kitchen

Surprisingly, maybe our favorite savory dish was the Roasted Cauliflower ($9), really simple but oh-so-good because, like most of Blue Hound’s offerings, it combined sweet, savory and salty to satisfy all your palate’s tastes. It came with pistachios, capers and currants, and Justis said it’s simply cooked by poaching the cruciferous vegetable in milk before charring it a little in a skillet, then adding in the capers, currants and a touch of butter and herbs.

Roasted Cauliflower Blue Hound Kitchen

Elle summed up the meal perfectly: “I would never have thought of putting this stuff together, but it’s exactly what I want,” she said.

I was full, but we asked Justis to surprise us with dessert. He brought out the latest dessert menu item, the BHPB&J ($9), a twist on PB&J with whoopie pie, blackberry jelly ice cream, peanut butter mousse (OMG, so good), and fresh berries. The chocolate covering the whooiee pie was so decadent, and I loved all the flavors on the updated classic. “It tastes like the Fourth of July,” Elle added, saying it reminded her of all-American flavors from the summer holiday.

PB and J Blue Hound Kitchen

We were stuffed, but then were surprised with dessert number two: Pineapple Upside-Down Cake served skillet-style ($9), wish medjool date ice cream atop salted caramel.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake Blue Hound Kitchen

We devoured every bite despite our full bellies, and you can tell by the clean plates below, every serving was a winner for these two ladies.

Dessert Blue Hound KitchenWhile most of what we ordered was vegetarian, Blue Hound’s latest menu has some notable seafood items, including Crispy Salt N’ Pepper Shrimp, Grilled Yellowfin Tuna and Red Snapper.

Salt and Pepper Shrimp_Blue Hound

For more information on the restaurant, head here.

‘Bad Words’ with Jason Bateman C-H-A-R-M-I-N-G

Jason Bateman as a bad guy is always a fun thing to watch. As such, his new movie and directorial debut, Bad Words, provides plenty of laughs. And, like all things Bateman-related, the film has plenty of heart, too.

Bad Words film

Bateman stars as guy, a 40-year-old who enters a state spelling bee after he finds a loophole stipulating entrants must not have graduated the eighth grade. A proofreader with a photographic memory, Guy ticks off parents by getting up on the stage, then beating all their kids, for reasons unknown. Not even the journalist following him around as his sponsor in hopes of a good story can get him to confess his motives.

Bad Words movie

As he prepares for the national contest, he begrudgingly befriends Chaitanya (Rohan Chand), a 10-year-old Guy nicknames every Indian stereotype in the book, who won’t leave Guy alone despite Guy’s resistance.

Bad Words movie

Guy’s treatment of his opponents his hysterically mean, from making it look like a girl starts her period on a chair, to telling a boy he slept with his mother the night before. Relax, these kids are middle schoolers, so they get the venom Guy is spewing, and no matter how mean Guy is, he’s still played by Bateman – a man you can’t help but love.

Chand is equally adorable as Guy’s unlikely new sidekick, and their adventurous night that involves a prostitute will keep you laughing. The movie is simple, yes, but it’s still edgy and consistently funny.

Bateman added nice touches as a director, with a rocking soundtrack, a drab color scheme and slow-motion scenes integrated throughout, all which give the movie a unique feel. The movie is only 88 minutes, too, which will keep even the shortest of attention spans captivated. Learn more here.

The Brush Bar in Old Town my new favorite Scottsdale spot

O…M…G. I found my new favorite thing to do in Scottsdale when I’m not eating or drinking yummy food and cocktails – painting at The Brush Bar!

This Old Town Scottsdale painting studio is one of those trendy wine-and-paint places, where an instructor leads attendees through painting an acrylic work of art, as painters may sip vino or their beverage of choice. I went last weekend with my friend Arian who so graciously took me as her guest, and we painted these panda masterpieces.

The Brush Bar painting class in Old Town Scottsdale

The class was about two-and-a-half hours long, and each painter got a canvas and plenty of paint and brushes to work with. A microphoned instructor broke down the painting stroke by stroke, and we were in a family class filled with little kids who were able to deftly recreate the panda because of the excellent instruction.

Painting at The Brush Bar in Old Town Scottsdale

When I walked in and saw what we’d be painting, I had doubts I’d be able to turn out something similar, even though I’ve always loved painting as a hobby. Because the instructor divided the painting into easy-to-replicate shapes, it wasn’t difficult to follow along, and I was thrilled with how my painting turned out.

The instructor played music throughout the class, and it was a lot of fun to paint and chat with my friend in-between the instructions. Even though we were in the family class (only $25 a class, compared to some classes that are $40 each), none of the kids were annoying, since everyone had their own little work station. It was seriously the most fun I’ve had in awhile, and I’d highly recommend a class. Plus, each one includes a complimentary glass of wine — fun!

The Brush Bar offers happy hour classes at a discounted rate, as well as open studio time where you’re free to grab a blank canvas and paint whatever you want. I think it’d be a super-fun date idea, and you can learn more about The Brush Bar here.

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is worth a check-in

Ah, Wes Anderson. It’s easy to see why the director/writer has such as cult following – his movies are heartfelt and humor-filled, with wonderful characterization, all set atop dazzling visuals that seem way grander than Anderson’s independent budgets. His latest movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is no exception.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The rated-R flick tells the story of Zero, a former lobby boy-turned-owner of The Grand Budapest Hotel, in a fictional snowy mountain town in Europe. As a lobby boy, his boss, Gustave, played with much humor by Ralph Fiennes, is framed for the murder of one of his beloved clients, Madame D (played by Tilda Swinton in amazing makeup that ages her 20 years.) Zero and Gustave go on wild adventures as Madame D’s horrendous family tries to re-capture the valuable painting she willed to Gustave.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

There are several things that make this a great film. The first obvious one is the stunning visuals. The settings, colors, costumes and integrated animation are all really beautiful and whimsical. There are so many intricate details that really make an artistic masterpiece on screen.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The next is the amazing characterization. Each one is strong and memorable. By far, my favorites were Dmitri and J.G. Jopling, Madame D’s evil sons. They’re played by Adrien Brody, who is delightfully devilish in an extreme black get-up, and Willem Dafoe, a motorcycle-riding murderer who is almost adorable in his mannerisms – seriously. They’re both hysterical characters despite how insidious they are.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

And, like all Anderson movies, it’s fun to watch because you never know which famous actor is going to turn up next. Owen Wilson, Jude Law, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray and more have cameos. The star-studded cast is just yet another way The Grand Budapest Hotel keeps viewers captivated.

Find more information on the film, go here.

‘That Awkward Moment’ good…for teenage girls

It doesn’t matter how good-looking Zac Efron is, I really wish I hadn’t paid $10 to see his mug up on a big screen. Alas, when my friend invited me to see the Efron-starring That Awkward Moment, I agreed, but don’t be fooled by those baby blues.

That Awkward Moment movie

The movie, though it stars three guys, is totally a feminine romantic comedy more intended for the ladies than for guys. I seriously cannot picture the vast majority of guys not wanting to gauge their eyes out when watching this. It’s filled with sap, corny one-liners and barely any nudity, save for some butt shots of the guys. How gals convince their boyfriends to tag along to this, I have no idea.

Efron stars as Jason, an illustrator who makes a pact with his two best guy buddies to not get into a relationship. As all three have hot ladies in their lives, you can guess how this turns out.

I will say there were some smirk-inducing moments, but there wasn’t a groundbreaking thing about the script or the action. While marketing was built to bill this movie as dating from a guy’s point-of-view, I just don’t believe guys would eat ice cream together on a couch – even though it’s a cute idea.

I think the only people who would genuinely enjoy the movie are teenage girls – which is why I think the R rating was a huge mistake. The movie wasn’t edgy enough to go there (just lots of f-words), and if they had edited the script and made it PG-13, maybe the studio would have made more money.

Unless you fall into that high school girl demographic, stay far, far away.

Joyride Taco House spices up Central Phoenix

I’m so thankful Upward Projects – the restaurant-building brand that brought the Valley favorites such as Postino, Windsor and Federal Pizza (read about founder Craig DeMarco here on Phoenix People) – finally opened a Mexican food joint with their Gilbert spot Joyride Taco House. The Central Phoenix version debuted last month, and I went there recently to sit on the colorful expansive patio in this gorgeous Valley weather.

Craig DeMarco

The décor and menu at Phoenix’s Joyride is the same as the Gilbert location. I love Joyride’s chips and salsa. The salsa is the perfect level of spiciness, while the chips are thin. They’re the perfect way to start your meal.

At both locations, I ordered the Veggie and Goat Cheese Enchiladas ($9) – they were just so darn good the first time! They come smothered in both red ancho chile and salsa verde sauce and are bursting with that delicious goat cheese.

Joyride Taco House veggie and goat cheese enchiladas

It’s a really massive entrée, but I still ordered a side of rice ($3) and black beans ($3) – am I the only one who thinks rice and beans need to complement every Mexican meal?

Joyride Taco House rice and black beans

That is actually probably the one thing I would change here: make the entrée portions smaller (for example, one enchilada was plenty for me), and add rice and beans to meals. As it is now, I received two complete meals with what I ordered – at only $15, that’s not bad, either.

For more information on Joyride Taco House, go here.

Amy’s Baking Company not scary on a recent visit

“Are you lovers or haters?”

That’s how Amy’s Baking Company owner Samy Bouzaglo greeted my platonic girl friend and I when we walked into the notorious eatery made famous by Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Well, we do love each other, so we hesitantly answered “lovers” before taking a seat outside on the patio of the nearly-empty restaurant.

Amy's Baking Company interior

Samy was our server and was extremely friendly and smiley – how a welcoming host should be. He was helpful in talking about the menu, explaining the 12-inch Garlic Mushroom Chicken pizza ($15) my friend ordered would be big enough to share – it definitely was – and he brought out our drinks cheerfully.

Amy's Baking Company garlic mushroom chicken pizza

The food seemed to take a little long to deliver, more than 20 minutes, considering there were only maybe a couple other tables filled inside, but hopefully that’s because Amy, whom we met, was actually making everything by scratch.

We both really enjoyed our food. I thought my dish, the Tomato Spinach Ravioli with a tomato cream sauce and fresh spinach, was really tasty — though I have no idea if the pasta was fresh or frozen. I really liked the cream sauce, and the ravioli filling was scrumptious, too. I did think, at only about four ravioli per dish, it was a little overpriced at $14, though.

Amy's Baking Company tomato spinach ravioli

Most of the menu’s entrees are around $15, which makes eating lunch here pretty pricey. And though the pizza was massive enough for my friend to take half home, it’d be cooler if there were smaller, less expensive portions to choose from at lunch.

I did get a to-go dessert, a slice of delicious blueberry pie. Samy did insist Amy makes all the desserts, so I’ll give kudos to her since they all looked great. But my pie slice was $10 – again, pretty pricey.

I have to admit I was really scared to go to Amy’s Baking Company, since I’d seen the episode of Kitchen Nightmares they were featured in, and they’re back on again on Friday, February 28 on FOX. As we were leaving, Samy and Amy said, “There’s about to be a war” – possibly alluding to what happened during the filming of the new episode. I’m super-curious what went down and will not go back until the next airing – but for now, I’m glad I at least made it out alive with a happily full stomach.

Do not go to Chestnut Fine Foods and Provisions in Phoenix

If you want a great dining experience, don’t go to Chestnut Fine Foods and Provisions in Phoenix. Just don’t.

You’ll walk in to the breakfast and lunch spot, like I did on a recent Sunday morning, and you’ll be greeted by a  crowd of people standing in disorganized lines to order — not exactly a relaxing way to start your breakfast.

Then, they’ll be out of the drink you want to order — in my friend’s case, it was the Lavender Honey Iced Latte. The person taking your order won’t be friendly, just indifferent. Even when you tip more than 20 percent at this order-at-the-counter eatery, don’t expect great service.

The girl who delivers the coffee latte you had to settle on will scowl as she sets it down on your table, which, by the way, has no silverware or napkins.

Now, the fun part — my pal and I waited 30 minutes for our food, watching as tables who sat down after us received theirs. When my pal finally asked what was up, we found out our ticket had been “burned” — meaning the order had mistakenly been perceived as already delivered — which means our food hadn’t even started to be cooked. This message was delivered by the sous-chef, who actually told my friend and I, “I’m delivering the food because everyone in the kitchen is messing up.” If only that was followed by an, “And your meal is free because we’re giving sucky service today.”

My friend received her coffee 15 minutes before I got my orange juice, and when we finally got our food, the disappointing experience continued. Sure, my Lemon Ricotta Waffles ($7.25) were OK,

Chestnut in Phoenix Lemon Ricotta Waffles

but my friend’s Green Eggs and Ham ($7.50), she said, was horrible.

Chestnut in Phoenix Green Eggs and Ham

It came with poached eggs, prosciutto, pesto and arugula on an English muffin, and she said the English muffin was hard, the egg was runny, there wasn’t enough pesto, and the ham was undercooked. Even if I wasn’t vegetarian, I would still think that was really gross.

Maybe we would have left with a better taste in our mouths if the people working at the Chestnut actually seemed like they cared about the people eating there. For now, I’d recommend never going there. Ever.