On Sunday, we told you a little bit about Clever Koi, the new modern Asian restaurant opening November 25.
Today we continue the story of the four first-time restaurateurs and their journey from an Italian pizza parlor to opening their own place.
“We love it,” Porter says, “But will it transfer from those food cities to here?”
It’s a fair question. Is Phoenix is ready for what the 105-seat Clever Koi is hoping to deliver?
General manager, Nick Campisano says, “We’re not only focused on featuring a one-of-a-kind menu and a highly-regarded cocktail program, but an overall experience that will put The Clever Koi on the culinary map.”
Campisano, who has worked in the Sam Fox restaurant group FRC, renowned for its service, is responsible for the front of the house operations.
“I’ve seen what works well and what doesn’t,” he says. Expect casual but professional service from servers “who are allowed to approach the table with their own personality.” Uniforms will be denim jeans, charcoal gray pinstriped bistro aprons and Clever Koi logo shirts.
Drinks will be traditional American cocktails with an Asian twist, says Beverage Director Joshua James. Look for Asian ingredients such as shishito leaves, plum wine, togarashi and a bar menu that includes a couple of Japanese whiskeys.
The barware is gold, a tie-in to the gold-painted tin tiles lining the bar, and a “blingy” cultural reference.
The back of the house is manned by chefs Jared Porter and Joe Absolor.
“We’re using classic techniques, so there’s classic bones to things, but we’ve intentionally spun them out so there is some familiarity, but not so classic that you’re going to get sweet & sour pork,” Porter says.
The menu is a mix of small plates (with cold and hot sections, steamed buns and dumplings), plus rice bowls, noodle bowls and family-style dinners, meant to serve 3 to 4 people. Prices will be in the $8 to $12 range, with family style meals slightly higher, in the low to mid $20 range.
Look for a Vietnamese octopus roll (marinated octopus finished on a charcoal grill) with glass noodles, mint, cilantro, and oyster sauce under the cold section, and mu shoo pork with crisp beef tendon and black garlic scallion pancakes under the hot section.
Steamed buns will include a vegetarian tempura onion rings bun with pickled pineapple, and lamb pastrami with hot pickled mustard greens and black sesame aioli. Funny thing, Absolor is a master at lamb pastrami but he’s never been a big fan of lamb — until he figured out how to cure lamb pastrami-style, and then it was love at first bite.
Dumplings will be made in house, and the dumpling station will be visible from the exterior breezeway. In fact, the whole prep kitchen in the back can be seen through a floor-to-ceiling glass wall. Under the dumplings section of the menu, look for beef neck ‘Shanghai style” dumplings with Chinese sausage and shiitake broth.
Designing a kitchen from the ground up sounds like a dream for any chef, but there is always a catch. The “oops” moment for Clever Koi happens to be the chefs’ pride and joy (and destined to be the workhorse of the restaurant) an Italian-made rotisserie grill.
It took eight months for the beast from Florence to arrive and required a last minute reconfiguration in the kitchen (namely, a costly custom hood). Sometimes you just roll with the punches.
“It quickly became the most expensive piece of the restaurant construction,” Porter says. Still, he thinks it will prove worth every cent based on the production use they’ll get out of it.
To say the partners are eager to show Phoenix what they’ve been swimming toward this past year is an understatement. The Clever Koi has reached the metaphorical waterfall, and come Monday, it’s time to take the leap.
4236 N. Central Ave., Phoenix