According to legend, 100 years had elapsed and no koi ever made it past the treacherous waterfall at the end of a long, arduous upstream journey. Most koi turned around without even trying. A few hundred kept swimming ahead, over and over again, to no avail. No one knows why, but one fateful day, a single koi finally leaped high enough to clear the formidable waterfall. As a reward for his dedication and perseverance, the gods turned the victorious koi into a golden dragon who spent the rest of eternity soaring high above earth, tucked safely away in the heavens.
Back on earth, four friends, who met while working in a modern Italian restaurant in Phoenix, started their own determined journey upstream a year ago. On November 25 (pending final inspections), these focused thirty-somethings will reach the waterfall they’ve been metaphorically swimming toward the past 12 months.
Chefs Jared Porter and Joe Absolor, General Manager Nick Campisano, and Beverage Director Joshua James are set to open one of the most anticipated new restaurants in Phoenix this year: Clever Koi, a modern Asian-American tavern.
Conveniently located on the Metro Light Rail just north of Indian School Road on Central Avenue, Clever Koi once housed a furniture store. Construction on the infill development project began more than four months ago with the splitting of the old building into two distinct spaces. A covered breezeway separates the two buildings; Clever Koi to the south and a proposed salon and wine bar to the north.
All four partners took an active role in the construction, wielding hammers, drills and welding torches (above), and the occasional rock hauling for the landscaped front patio (below). They partnered with nearly a dozen local craftsmen, including Bang Bang Designs, who, among other things, salvaged wood beams from the inside demolition and repurposed them into a long, rustic bench on the front patio.
Are these first time restaurateurs nervous? You bet, but they are also electrified by the opportunity to “bring something different” to the dining scene. Clever Koi is billed as a casual, modern Asian restaurant, yet not a single one of them is Asian. That doesn’t phase them because they aren’t trying to duplicate “authentic” Asian cuisine.
“Jared and I traveled a lot over the past few years to Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco,” says Absolor. “We started [eating in] Italian restaurants but found ourselves gravitating to the Asian stuff.”
They concluded there was nothing in Phoenix like what they were eating in these food-centric cities. That both thrilled — and scared — them as they formulated their future restaurant.
Porter says, “We’ve been trying to figure out if there is a desire for this [type of] food. We love it, but will it transfer from those food cities to here?”
That is the $64,000 question. Is Phoenix ready to embrace what the top food cities have been slinging for the past decade?
Come back later and we’ll share more details from our interview with the four partners, including what’s on the menu and a surprise the partners didn’t count on that put the opening date in jeopardy.
4236 N. Central Ave., Phoenix