Every last Sunday of the month, Clever Koi invites another restaurant's team into the kitchen to join forces to create one five course meal. Crudo was the fourth restaurant to do a Day Off Dinner at Clever Koi, joining Welcome Diner, Crepe Bar, and Brat Haus. With a packed house, the kitchen sent out dish after dish of one-of-a-kind fusion fare courtesy of chefs Jared Porter and Cullen Campbell, along with their staffs. Uni, pig tail, and green tea tiramisu, along with plenty of tasty cocktails, were all on the menu.
With five large community tables set up inside Clever Koi, I took my seat as the restaurant's guest.
First out of the kitchen was a crispy, fatty smoked pig tail with a tart and sweet pineapple gastrique and peanut for a bit of extra crunch. Paired with a carbonated Sauvignon Blanc drink mixed with Aperol, clarified lemon, and Lillet Blanc, the richness of the pig tail was cut with the dryness of the drink for a nice balance.
You really can't go wrong with handmade pasta and the nori-flecked pansotti at the dinner combined the best parts of Italian pasta with Asian dumplings. The dumplings filling pretty much exploded into your mouth with each bite, which was especially nice considering it was filled with silken tofu (to simulate a cheese filling) and bone marrow. The fresh shitake mushroom brood was so tasty it had diners picking up their bowls and slurping it down. Oh, and the pasta was covered in an uni bottarga courtesy of Campbell and paired with a bourbon, Contratto Fernet, dai dai, and ginger gomme cocktail courtesy of Joshua James, making it one of the best, if not the best, pairings of the night.
Bouncing off of the success of the first two dishes, Porter's take on a deconstructed, sashimi-like Vitello Tonnato had great aspects, but was unfortunately discordant as a whole dish. While the other dishes elements built upon each other, the crispy, fried veal sweetbreads, fresh raw tuna, pickled mustard seed, and micro arugula were all good but not harmonious. Despite all of those strong elements of the dish, the dollops of yuzu aioli overpowered the dish, making everything taste just like mayonnaise.
The redeeming element of the second course would definitely be Micah Olson's rye gin-based cocktail, which had Cocchi Americano, cucumber, and a watermelon shrub. The almost briney quality of the combination of rye gin, the vinegary shrub, and cucumber contrasted the creaminess of the aioli on the dish.
Looking over at the wood fire burning in the grill in the open kitchen, smelling the smokiness, and then reading wood-grilled short rib on the menu definitely made the third course the most anticipated. While the short rib was perfectly moist tender and had a flavorful Korean spice jus to accompany it, its side dishes stole the show. Tangy kimchi-fermented peaches and creamy bitter daikon greens soaked up the flavor of the five spice jus well. To accompany the dish, a red wine blend with layered spiced and tart notes.
Although the short ribs had me pretty much stuffed to the brim, turning down tiramisu is just wrong. However, turning down a tiramisu made from green tea lady fingers, red miso mascarpone, and white sesame brittle is downright insane. Unlike the dishes and cocktails the preceded it, pairing the delicately flavored dessert with its bold espresso-infused Sibona amaro companion drink would be a mistake. The amaro completely overshadowed the dessert, so it was best to save it until the whole meal was over. After dessert both kitchen and bar staffs invited guests to stay after for cocktails and karaoke.
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Overall, the Day Off Dinner series is a great way for the community to connect to the restaurant industry. The relaxed setting and yes, the bout of karaoke afterward make it more like having dinner with friends than dining out. One time only dishes make the event a must stop for serious food snobs in town, but the entire thing is very approachable if you read this and didn't automatically know what an uni bottarga is. After all, Porter took the time to explain each dish as it came out.
If you have the chance, it's well worth the $65 for the experience alone, though the five dishes and five drinks definitely mean you'll get your money's worth. Next month chef Chris McKinley and bartender Adam Hargett, owners of The Local, will take over the Clever Koi kitchen on Sunday, September 28 at 5:30 p.m. You can make reservations by calling 602-222-3474.