Ciao, Fella

It's musical chairs of a most interesting kind between two restaurants with completely different concepts. Hapa Sushi Lounge's star chef, Nobu Fukuda, is departing his award-winning adjunct of Restaurant Hapa to open an addition to Cowboy Ciao.

This means that Restaurant Hapa, lavishly celebrated by local and national media for its luxurious Japanese-American cuisine, no longer will offer sushi. Instead, Cowboy Ciao, which is equally recognized for its whimsical European-Southwestern comfort food fusion fare, will also offer omakase. That's the Japanese term for multicourse, highly exotic sushi tastings paired with wine, champagne and sake.

Got that? Actually, Cowboy Ciao won't be offering ahi tartare (blue fin tuna minced with garlic, soy sauce, pine nuts and dicings of Fuji apple, cucumber and avocado on lotus chip) alongside its Pig and Pudding (pulled smoked pork loin in chipotle-balsamic barbecue sauce on chile grits). Ciao owner Peter Kasperski is expanding into a new wing to house Fukuda's lounge. That will bring Kasperski's restaurant collection to three -- he opened Kazimierz, a wine and upscale appetizer bar, next door to Ciao earlier this year.

Fukuda has long discussed wanting to open his own place, chatting with diners as he's performed his culinary Cirque du Soleil at Hapa Sushi. Pairing with Kasperski and, in particular, Kasperski's incredibly encompassing global wine collection, gives him more opportunity to create.

Restaurant Hapa owner James McDevitt says that when Fukuda leaves in December, he'll likely convert the sushi lounge into a full-service bar.

"I can't find anyone as talented locally as Nobu," McDevitt notes.

More changes may be on the horizon, McDevitt adds, who recently had his hands full trying to revive yet another Scottsdale restaurant, Seasons (after a valiant try, with McDevitt implementing a new signature menu, Seasons closed this summer). He's got a lucrative offer on the table for a new hotel property in Napa, California, next door to the under-construction Center for Food and Wine. If he goes, he would hand the Restaurant Hapa reins over only if he "could find the right person wanting to make their own mark."

At least Fukuda's move only takes him a few miles south on Scottsdale Road. His place is scheduled to open after the first of the year. If McDevitt departs, though, the Valley will be losing a restaurant that truly has put us on the map. Gourmet named Restaurant Hapa among America's Best Restaurants for 2000, calling it the most exciting place in town. And the New York Times has called Hapa "one of the most inventive and exhilarating in Phoenix, and destined to enjoy a wider reputation."

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Carey Sweet
Contact: Carey Sweet