Fate's Johnny Chu expands his downtown empire

Johnny Chu's so excited about his upcoming projects that he's gotten me all excited, too.

The chef/owner of Fate, the hip Asian eatery on 4th Street between Garfield and Roosevelt, has had a busy last three months, traveling all over the place for culinary research. And next month, he'll be heading to Vietnam and China.

"I'll stop by Thailand to pick up some Buddhas, too," he said, laughing.

No doubt, he'll put them to good use in the two new restaurants he has in the works.

First up will be an international noodle shop called 4 Sense, offering about ten different kinds of noodles, everything from glass noodles to green tea soba. He's amazed nobody's doing this in central Phoenix, and frankly, I am too.

(Seriously, I was this close to driving to Da Vang for noodle soup, but I didn't have enough time to trek over there. Fate is an old favorite, so I headed there instead -- how fortuitous! I won't even make a "fate" joke here...)

Chu's currently negotiating with the owner of Cafe LaBella, on 7th Street at Virginia, to buy the restaurant and convert it into a noodle place this summer, perhaps as soon as July.

Meanwhile, the construction of Fate's cobblestone patio, which connects it to the building on the corner, is complete, and there's a giant rebar mushroom out front. Chu says he already has permits to turn the mushroom into an outdoor bar -- among other places, patrons will be able to watch the world go by while seated at the metal counter that runs along the low front fence.

That bar will be part of the new restaurant concept Chu will launch next door, an Asian fusion tapas bar with groovy lounge seating, live jazz, DJs, and dancing. Chu said it'll be a lot like the old Lucky Dragon, his original place in Tempe. The front porch will be converted into an open kitchen, so you'll be able to see in from the street. Look for small plates like stir-fried wild mushrooms, cold duck, and lemongrass shrimp. No surprise, he said he wants to name the place Next Door.

"So if you ask where Johnny is, they're gonna say he's Next Door," said Chu.

He's already got the permit for drinking on the patio, but this particular project -- a good year and a half in the works already -- won't launch until November. The bar will likely open in October, the month when everything in Phoenix seems to emerge from summer hibernation.

I love having something to look forward to.

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