A super-cool and modern take on a traditional Asian concept, the menu at Clever Koi in Phoenix features culinary influences from the Thailand, Korea, China, Vietnam, Japan and Indo-China regions (with a stellar craft cocktail program, to boot). Though the restaurant is smallish, it packs a lot of punch with its urban-inspired design, rotating art from featured artists, floor-to-ceiling windows and an exhibition-style kitchen.
The menu is neatly organized with starters, dumplings, steamed buns, rice and noodle plates and desserts–and we suggest ordering a dish or two from each section and sharing. To start, the wood-fired octopus sits atop a crispy rice cake in a slightly spicy and super-flavorful broth. The bowl offers a satisfying medley of textures–and the presentation is pretty, too.
The roasted corn gyozas (four are on a plate) offer a great crunch and are especially delicious when slathered in the accompanying avocado-relish and pesto. Sure to be a table favorite are the roasted pork belly steamed buns. The pillowy buns, the sweet pork belly with a crispy exterior, the crunchy peanuts–there is a lot to like about this dish.
For a more hearty dish, turn to the rice and noodle sections of the menu. The Kung Pao fried chicken is a bit spicy and satisfying in a bowl chock-full of snow peas, Chinese sausage, confit potatoes and peanuts. The summer corn ramen is a great offering for the season. Though the noodles make it a filling and hearty dish, it still feels light thanks to plentiful veggies (summer squash, roasted corn and asparagus) with a dash of decadence (thanks to the miso butter).
For a light and refreshing way to end your Clever Koi meal, opt for the soft serve flavor of the day (which was a chocolate with a spicy finish during our visit) or, for something a little more decadent, try the banana fritters with the divine red miso caramel (that you might end up spooning directly into your mouth after the fritters are finished). To wash it all down, the Clever Koi cocktail program is impressive; we enjoyed the refreshing, summery Jonny Wang Fizz with rum, ginger shrub, Boston bittahs and fresh-pressed pineapple. www.thecleverkoi.com.