First bite: Our reviewer shares some thoughts on a new restaurant after an informal visit.
Clever Ramen is a futurist fast casual restaurant where you can customize your bowl of ramen, from noodles to protein. It fits perfectly into at SkySong, an ASU innovation park filled with a mix of tech companies and apartments.
During my visit, an employee was standing behind a glass partition where dozens of baskets of noodles hanging from a large tub of boiling water. As I ordered, the ingredients were placed in a paper tray, starting with noodles and broth, then moving on to vegetables like bean sprouts, togarashi corn, kimchi and candied tomatoes. Finally, the takeout bowl was topped with a choice of protein, like crispy chicken or grilled tofu, and placed on a bright orange platter.
Clever Koi’s new sister concept seemed aimed at young professionals in surrounding offices, with time-saving methods like mobile ordering. Clever Ramen offers a quick dining experience for the lunch crowd, but the restaurant also attracted a healthy clientele during a recent dinner service.
More stylish than the average fast casual restaurant
The Scottsdale space is beautiful, way beyond what I would expect for a casual Chipotle style lunch spot. The dining room is open and airy with a high ceiling covered in corrugated wooden panels that resemble the interior of a piano. Local architecture firm Aline created the 3D design to mimic the ripple of ramen noodles. Leafy plants abound and large windows open onto a spacious front patio.
This is no wonder, given that the owners Joshua James and Nicholas Campisano are also behind Clever Koi, an elegant Pan-Asian restaurant that’s been one of the sexiest tables in town since it opened in 2013.
The duo have since opened a host of hip concepts, like Across the Pond sushi bar and Fellow Osteria, located right next to Clever Ramen.
For this new venture, they’ve taken the popular ramen dishes from the Clever Koi menu and turned them into fast food, adding a build-your-own ramen bowl as well as a menu of steamed buns and Asian-inspired loaded fries.
What’s on the ramen menu at Clever Ramen
I trust the ingenuity of the kitchen more than my own personal ramen-making skills, so rather than customizing, I ordered two bowls from the set menu, which included options like a spicy ramen with kimchi with confit chicken thigh and lemon chicken ramen with chicken-based paitan broth. Clever Ramen offers three types of noodles – curly, thinner vegan ramen noodles and gluten-free – and the ramen noodles were by far my favorite.
To find out what a ramen shop is, I usually choose its version of tonkotsu milky pork bone broth, here called pork ramen and served with crispy pork belly, roasted mushrooms, bean sprouts and a soy egg. I also ordered the vegan ramen.
Tonkotsu ingredients have been expertly layered onto the broth in the oversized popcorn pot of a bowl with an egg in the center of the colorful pinwheel. I do not have see the noodles until I bury my fork. (We weren’t given baguettes until we asked for them, and I couldn’t wait to taste them.)
The broth did not have the depth of flavor of slow braised, traditional milky tonkotsu and the pork was a bit overcooked.
Overall, I preferred the balance of flavors of the vegan ramen, which was made with a creamy dashi broth topped with grilled tofu, roasted mushrooms, bean sprouts and juicy sundried tomatoes.
Sides are the surprise stars of the menu
I was most impressed with the side dishes I ordered, a trio of steamed buns and kim-cheese fries, which came in cute little paper boxes to take away. Folded like a taco with creative flavor combinations wedged into the puffy white buns, the Korean hot chicken was my favorite between the pork belly and kimchi cauliflower. You can order a box of three for $11, and I wouldn’t mind trying them all again.
But if you only order one, try the Korean Hot Chicken, which features a juicy piece of fried chicken that plays against a fresh cucumber pickle and spicy gochujang sauce with crispy fried shallots on top for texture.
The kim-cheese fries are sprinkled with finely chopped kimchi and green onions. The cheddar cheese sauce had been left on our order so I asked for a side which turned out to be a great choice as it kept the fries crispy while I dipped them in the tangy cheese sauce.
Lovers of fully customizable fast casual experiences, rejoice, this new lunch has been designed just for you.
Or: 1455 N. Scottsdale Road, Suite 105, Scottsdale.
Hours: 10:45 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day
Price: Premade bowls $14; build-your-own bowls $8 plus add-ons; fries $5 to $8; rolls two for $8 or three for $11.
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