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Local businessman Danny Hendon found his success in soapsuds, as owner of the 13 Danny's Family Carousel Carwashes across the Valley. Now, the entrepreneur has trained his sights on a spiffy new upscale supper club in the East Valley. If it sounds like an odd pairing, it is. The resulting restaurant -- Barcelona in Chandler -- is so confused a concept that guests seeking an elegant dining experience are more likely to feel they've been pushed the wrong way through a spin cycle.
Barcelona, which opened in mid-December at the booming intersection of Ray Road and I-10, has been highly promoted as the hot spot du jour. And to see the swarms of guests even on weeknights, the message has been well received.
But who's going there? Not people drawn in by the restaurant's self-titled haute cuisine, likely. No, my guess is most customers are coming for the Valley's latest adventure into that wild world of entertainment paired with food -- eatertainment.
15440 N. Greenway Hayden Loop
Scottsdale, AZ 85260
Region: North Scottsdale
Southwestern pizza: $11
Chicken linguine: $15
Pork tenderloin: $18
Rib eye steak: $20
Apple and pear fritter: $6
Mud pie: $6
480-785-9004. Hours: Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. daily.
The restaurant is worth a trip for a peek inside, certainly -- the jumbled, frenetic interior design is a great satire of a Las Vegas eatery. As its flacks glowingly describe it, "Rising from the floor of the Sonoran desert, the restaurant conjures sensual images of life on the Mediterranean. Barcelona is a monument of timeless Old World charm, European architecture and the latest in New World design technology."
Strict foodies will derive some pleasure, possibly, from smug giggles over the quirky menu -- despite its Spanish name, Barcelona offers a roller-coaster mix of Continental, Southwestern, Mexican, pizzas and pastas. There it is, right next to cilantro-pesto-marinated rack of lamb with black currant jelly: a relleno, enchilada and burrito feast. And next to the crème brûlée, mud pie.
Just in case anyone's still feeling left out, the 240-seat Barcelona also tosses in live jazz, two large bars with TVs and, get this, a hydraulic dance floor that appears when dinner tables are pushed back after 10 p.m.
Unfortunately, all the novelty is no tongue-in-cheek comment on the state of today's growing emphasis on dining in an MTV environment. The folks behind Barcelona are dead serious. They're threatening, in fact, to open four more Barcelona restaurants Valleywide.
The supernova of sensation begins at the front door, where a greeter/bouncer dressed in a long black Keanu Reeves/Matrix coat stands sentry. Barcelona has a no-reservations policy, and diners with incomplete parties are left to mill in a small foyer. While waiting, they can read two signs reminding them of an "enforced dress code" (meaning casual elegance, with no jeans, shorts, tee shirts or tennis shoes, although several jeans-clad customers are left unmolested when I visit).
Walls (developed in Germany, we're told) open to the outdoors. Decorator touches include 16th-century wooden doorways, swollen burgundy drapes and massive stone columns that double as speakers. Ceilings are gilded in antique silver, anchored by a 30-foot dome inset with a mural of dancing angels and cherubs. A raised stage off the dining area/dance floor houses musicians and a writhing blond singer against a backdrop map fresco of Barcelona, and at 8 p.m. on weekends, management flips on the multicolor stage lights surrounding the room for a strobe show. Even the restrooms are theater, with carved stone sinks, burnished metal stall doors and faucets that look like cantaloupe-size metal tea balls stuck with tentacles.
Feeling dizzy? Patrons could pass out, and their dining partners likely wouldn't notice, with throbbing music all around and screeching bar guests just steps away. Conversation, refined or of any kind, isn't a part of this "upscale" evening out. Waiters have to circle tables, even parties of four, in order to lean in close enough to interpret orders.
If Barcelona were a movie, the staff would be played by Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken. My waiter promises me Barcelona doesn't have an above-average number of servers, but these people are everywhere, slicked (of course) in head-to-toe black, lined up like solemn soldiers along one bar with their arms clasped behind their backs. Rather than attentive, it's kind of creepy. It's also not effective. When we order wine one evening, nobody ever stops by to pour it -- it's beyond awkward dragging a dripping bottle out of an ice bucket placed behind my back. Silverware doesn't get replaced -- we have to scavenge a neighboring table. And fine dining shouldn't include repeatedly mixed-up drink orders or the "who gets what?" query when meals arrive.
Elegant meals don't center around chicken quesadillas, either, but that's one of Barcelona's signature dishes, specially requested by Hendon and brought to us by chef Patrick Bria. Bria's got a strong background, trained under Chef Christopher Gross, with previous positions at the Orangerie at Arizona Biltmore, Wolfgang Puck's Citrus in Los Angeles, and Puck's now-defunct Obachine at Biltmore Fashion Park.
Like the restaurant decor, though, Barcelona's food is a case of too much foolish fashion and too little good taste. Why mess with smoked salmon, a dish that needs nothing but good breeding? Here, the appetizer is flat-flavored, the fish much too dry. It's squashed, too, by an inelegant planking of grilled focaccia with lemon dill aioli -- the bread's much too sturdy for the wimpy fish. A topping of deep-fried capers is nasty, too, coming off like greasy, salty buckshot. And whoa, what happened to the side of fried greens and chopped tomato -- they're so overcooked they reflect of crunchy tar.