by Kathy Kerby
Clever Koi is an Asian inspired kitchen featuring food from Thailand, Korea, China, Vietnam and Japan. This is the second location for owners Josh James, Nick Campisano and Jared Porter.
According to general manager Travis Boltz, James is a craft cocktail innovator, while Campisano’s forte is restaurant hospitality, which translates to “treating people like family and the space like home.”
Campisano’s passion trickles down to all aspects of service. Chef Porter received his initial training at EVIT in Mesa and he has definitely kept his hometown perspective throughout his 20 year career at various upscale restaurants in the Valley.
Porter has educated the staff to “make exotic ingredients approachable.”
The owners and general manager said that they want to be a part of the dynamic downtown neighborhood and looked for longevity.
Clever Koi features a modern, chic industrial vibe with interesting architectural elements. A geometric feature wall behind the bar area was designed by architect Matt Noakes and has three-dimensional concrete tiles. The lotus blossom motif above the vast, open, stainless steel kitchen area complements the dining room which features both highboy tables and bar seating.
An almost monochromatic color scheme with soothing shades of black, brown, gray and white is accented with touches of gold in the hanging basket lights and small glassware. Eclectic art pieces hang on faux tusks on a wall near the kitchen and large glass windows open onto a 40-seat outdoor dining patio.
Clever Koi recently rolled out a Brunch Menu and it’s available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday with special entrees and drinks.
In a “heavy brunch neighborhood, we just wanted to play ball,” said Travis as he brought menus to my friend and I on a recent Saturday.
We sampled the three brunch offerings and each featured modern twists on Asian classics. The Duck Sausage Biscuit ($10) had layer upon layer of flavor beginning with flakey, cheddar scallion biscuits, then crispy duck sausage, tomato, sunny eggs and a splash of mild house Sriracha sauce to brighten the dish. The egg yolk cascades down the sandwich like a creamy yellow sauce and the white yam hash browns were browned and crispy.
The Chinese Chorizo Burrito ($10) included wok scrambled eggs, lap cheong (Chinese sausage), kimchi fried rice and refried fermented black beans marinated in mirin (Japanese rice wine). It came bundled in a fresh tortilla that had been sealed by heating on a bed of cheddar cheese. This flavorful burrito was served with tomato seaweed pico and wasabi guacamole nestling in a small, fried tortilla bowl. Although this might seem like a mouthful of crazy flavors, the talented chefs at Clever Koi use subtlety and allow each ingredient to stand out, but not overpower, the others.
The last of the brunch trio is the Kimchi Belgian Waffle. This is not in-your-face kimchi, since just a hint of house-made savory kimchi liquid is added to the batter. Boltz informed us that it is “three-day kimchi, so there is not quite so much funkiness.” The crispy waffle is topped with cubes of fried pork belly and coconut water syrup which adds a light touch of sweetness to the flavor profile.
The Happy Hour Menu, served daily from 2 to 6 p.m. (11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday) includes Black Bean and Celery Root Pancakes with pickled peppers and wasabi aioli ($6.) My lunch date said: “there is so much going on in this pancake—every bite is an explosion of flavors.”
The Pork Ramen ($9) is a signature dish and it takes four days in a 65-gallon tank to make the broth. The pork belly is brined, braised and pressed for three days before being mixed into a soup along with ramen noodles, kimchi, bamboo shoots and a soft egg. The flavors scream spicy, savory, pungent, salty and creamy with every hot, steamy bite.
Clever Koi has cocktails, wines and craft beers with 15 classic cocktails available for just $7 during Happy Hour. The two dessert options are Banana Fritters with a miso red bean caramel glaze and date cake ($6.)
Clever Koi’s owners and wait staff are exceptional and the menu has such variety that you could explore it for months and never get bored with flavors, aromas and techniques from the Pacific Rim.
384 N. Gilbert Road Ste 101
Delivery is available through Uber Eats. Closed Mondays