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Johnny Chu Opens SoChu House with a Hip Ambiance and Plenty of Cocktails

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See also: Tastemaker No. 72: Johnny Chu See also: Johnny Chu's SoChu House to Open Thursday, July 19

When the curtains rose Thursday night at Johnny Chu's latest venture, SoChu House Neo Asian and Martini Bar, we were planning to drink and dine the night away at what will surely be a great new hot spot for central Phoenix.

The restaurant's enigmatic online description, "a spot for the bit of everything, nothing, and whatever in between," led to building anticipation in the weeks leading up to the unveiling.

Check out the full slideshow of SoChu House's grand opening.

And for the opening night, Chu promised all the makings of a great time: special guest DJ, drink and tapas tastings, and a full dinner service from 5 p.m. to close.

While we definitely heard the DJ and tasted the appetizers, we were a little concerned about dinner. Despite having reservations at 7:30 p.m., which we had confirmed with the restaurant earlier that day, we were told upon arrival the wait for our table would be at least an hour and a half.

So we took our grumbling stomachs to the bar. Nothing makes an hour and half go faster than a glass of the silent-but-deadly Japanese liquor: shochu. Stronger than wine but weaker than vodka, shochu is the kind of drink that goes down easy ... a little too easy. It's a delight to sip along with dinner and the bar had more than enough to offer -- but be warned: drink with caution. The lightness of the drink makes it hit even harder.

Not surprisingly (since no one was being sat for dinner), standing crowds seemed to be enjoying themselves under the purple and blue lights of the lounge. With a rainbow of martinis floating around the room and loud-music to set the mood, the darkly lit bar stood in stark contrast to the white, bright, and relatively calm dining room.

Tastings of shochu and wine kept the already-inebriated patrons at ease, and the lucky dozen or so with bar seats seemed none too eager to vacate. Everyone from young Downtowners to suited-up businessmen made appearances for the event, and those with drinks in hand seemed content.

Fans of any of Chu's other eateries (especially Sens), will see some very familiar dishes on SoChu's menu -- particularly the tapas. Items carried over during the opening included edamame with truffle butter, several salads and La Nho (lemongrass marinated beef wrapped in grape leaf served w/ nuoc cham sauce).

Eyeing still-empty tables in a far-from buzzing dining room, we asked the hostess what happened to cause the dinner-service debacle. She politely informed us they were trying to allow the food time to catch up to the demands of the bar and dining room. Ah, the classic tale of the backed-up kitchen.

Of course, there are always kinks on the opening night and between closing Sens and opening two new spots -- SoChu House and Lantern in Peoria expected to open in "late summer" -- we're willing to bet Chu has his hands more than full.

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