Dessert First: Banana Fritters and "Oreo" Pudding at The Clever Koi in Phoenix

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Saving room for dessert is tough at The Clever Koi. Wading through multiple courses of dumplings, steam buns, kushiyaki, and ramen (not to mention the two or three cocktails you'll want to order from the bar) will leave you feeling satisfied. But those who know what's good for them forge ahead to the "Sweet Things" corner of the uptown restaurant's menu — or skip the savory fare for an entirely different visit in order to focus on the restaurant's sweet offerings. 

On our most recent visit, we started the dessert course with an order of the Bananas Foster fritters ($6). Hot golf ball-size fritters arrived with a side of red miso caramel, the alluring aroma of baking spices and banana teasing our senses before we'd even had a bite. The fritters were piping hot, made fresh to order, and we enjoyed tearing them open, watching the steam waft upward, and promptly drowning them in the miso caramel.

How chefs Jared Porter and Joseph Absolor managed to make what essentially amounts to a cinnamon-sugar doughnut hole taste so strikingly like fresh bananas is beyond us. The fritters are at once fluffy and sweet, grounded by the salty, earthy caramel and would make a gratifying end to a meal as much as they make a solid, stand-alone snack. 

The Clever Koi also offers soft serve ice cream with flavors rotating daily. When we visited, the soft serve machine was down for the afternoon, so the chefs had instead whipped up a batch of house made salted caramel ice cream. The ice cream was light and flavorful, with slight hints of praline. If what we enjoyed was merely a dessert "backup," we can assume the soft serve itself is even better.

Clever Koi's third dessert is an "Oreo" Pudding ($7), made with dark chocolate pudding, cashew nougat, and cookie crumble. Served in a four-ounce mason jar, the dessert is akin to a traditional pots de crème blended with childhood snacktime favorites. 

Unlike chocolate mousse which is often rich, dense, and hard to finish, the pudding was light while remaining full of chocolate flavor. The cashew nougat added a nutty caramel element to the pudding, keeping the dessert from becoming one-sided, and combined with the cookie crumble, gave a necessary textural crunch.

The jar of pudding was emptied nearly as fast as it was set in front of us. The dessert was straightforward and uncomplicated, but with a depth of flavor that was delicious and enjoyable. Between the "Oreo" Pudding and Bananas Fosters fritters, we'll have a tough time choosing one dessert the next time we stop by Clever Koi for a treat.

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