Culinary Adventures

By Niki D’Andrea

Clever Koi’s new menu items will delight epicurean explorers

The Asian-inspired food at Clever Koi is adventurous. Traditional Asian dishes like fried rice, ramen and dumplings get punched up with exotic ingredients like duck fat sriracha, black garlic, Japanese whiskey glaze, wasabi guacamole, yuzu aioli, ponzu tofu cream and especially pickled daikon. The white, mild-flavored radish appears all over the menu. Dining at Clever Koi is paradise for epicurean explorers, and many new adventures were added to the menu this past spring.

That’s not to say there’s nothing on the menu for the unadventurous eater. The Pad Thai is familiar and flavorful, and also available in a vegan version. Korean fried chicken, curry, chow mein, and short ribs also are quite satisfying and safe.

The new menu items also include things that could please any palate, like the updated vegetable ramen bobbing with roasted tomatoes, chayote squash, Jerusalem artichokes and pickled daikon. The savory soup gets a boost from a leek-compound butter.

Dover sole will delight seafood lovers – the pan-seared, flaky white fish falls off the fork and is served over summer corn curry, chayote, bok choy, roasted corn and white rice.

And then there are the XO Noodles – wok-roasted yaki soba noodles with snow peas, bean sprouts, pickled daikon, scallions and fried shallots. The dish is named after two things – the XO designation for a “very special” cognac, and a popular spicy seafood sauce from China. The dish doesn’t taste fishy at all; it actually has an earthiness to it.

The new sunchoke and eggplant dip makes a great appetizer for sharing. The hummus-like dip is served with crispy, house-made sesame nori lavash bread and topped with a pinch of black garlic, which is basically aged garlic that looks a lot like dark caviar or jelly and has tangy overtones.

Beets are the heart of the fantastic vegetable tart. Braised beets are baked into a house-made puff pastry with goat cheese and rosemary and finished with a bourbon syrup. It’s a delicious – and surprisingly savory and filling – addition to Clever Koi’s menu.

Among the more adventurous menu items, though not new, is the chicken and waffle dish, found under “steamed buns.” This crunchy fried chicken thigh on a kimchi waffle with chili maple syrup is lip-smacking good.

In addition to its innovative fusion food menu, Clever Koi – which has two Valley locations, in Gilbert and central Phoenix — is known for its ambience. The dining room has several tables and at peak dinner hour, it’s bustling with people and loud with conversations. The kitchen is exposed, releasing an array of appetizing smells into the air and sometimes giving guests a glimpse of flame from the wok action. The patios are popular spots, as well, being well-shaded and well-lit in the evenings.

Clever Koi’s cocktail menu is well-known and well-loved by craft cocktail connoisseurs. Beverage director and Clever Koi co-owner Joshua James turns traditional tipples up a notch with drinks like The Dead Hand, a potent and peppery drink with Arette Blanco Tequila, Benedictine Liquor, orgeat (sweet almond-based syrup), blackberries, an absinthe float and fennel pollen. It has a black licorice flavor to it.

Those seeking something sweeter might like The Jailbird, made with purple beet-infused gin, Smith & Cross Rum, lime, orange juice, and a light floater of bitter Bruto Americano appertivo liqueur. There’s also a menu of a dozen wines and a dozen beers (including local craft beer on tap), and three kinds of sake.

It’s hard to say there’s “something for everyone” at Clever Koi, but we can’t say there’s not either. One thing we can say: For the epicurious, there’s much to explore, and many culinary adventures to have.