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I’ve said it before, what makes something standout in the luxury arena boils down to service and details. Hotels often nail it, most restaurants don’t. The Sheraton Grand’s Kai’s hyper focus on details and service make it the best restaurant in Arizona and show why it is the only five-diamond table in the state.
Most meals these days are simply about eating not experience. At Kai, dinner is an event. As I enter the dining room, large double doors whish open automatically, like the curtain was being raised on a performance. The lyrics from “Be our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast start dancing through my head.
After being seated our waiter greets us by name, welcomes me back, welcomes us with a Native American greeting, and wishes me a happy (belated) birthday. Champagne is promptly served to toast the occasion. Water is served with additions like raspberry, cucumber, orange or lime. A bit of the Aji Spa at Kai.
After settling in, the waiter returns with the menus and props the wooden frame books up and asks if he can explain the hand-painted watercolors on the menus. There are 17 original works of art that depict life in the Pima and Maricopa Indian tribes. Kai is set on Native American land and the menu is focused on gourmet Native American cuisine.
The menu is divided into The Birth (soups and salads), The Beginning (hot appetizers) and The Journey (main courses). I guarantee that every dish will include some ingredient you’ve never heard of. Thankfully, the wait staff team is well versed and can explain the offerings while weaving in the history of the ingredients. This is part of the Kai experience-telling the story of the tribes that inspired the meal and educating guests on that aspect of Arizona history.
I order the Preserved Garden, a vegetable concoction of pickled roots, confit of rose gold potatoes, Fermented Earth (yes! that is what it says), dried cactus pads, chanterelle buttons with a Saguaro Mist. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when the dish came it was culinary artistry. Chef Ryan Swanson clearly started with top notch, fresh ingredients and let their natural flavors shine.
A sorbet palate cleanser serves as a sweet intermission between courses.
For the Journey it’s The Three Sisters Wild Scallops with mesquite smoked caviar, kuri squash, Red Supai pasta, and white bean tepary bean crackling. The flavors of the dish marry well together and when the journey ends, I’m stuffed.
Dinner plates are cleared and we’re presented with a hot towel to refresh the hands. That isn’t uncommon, but what is uncommon is that next a planter with creosote/shegoi, desert broom and jojoba is set on the table and a tea poured on top of it. The plant begins to smoke like dry ice. The waiter explains that the way the sorbet cleanses the palate, the towel washes the hands, this is another element designed to clear the air and add to the sensory experience of the dinner.
I think we’re done, but alas we must soldier on-a chocolate soufflé with happy birthday written on top arrives. A test of will power that I fail. My friend and I did decide to box the truffles that followed to save for another day!
When I leave for the night, the valet greeted me by name and the car was already in front of me. Inside my car there was a note from the chef on my dashboard, a bottle of Voss water for the road and a small basket filled with orange blossom blue corn mini muffins for me to enjoy the following morning. It’s these small details and touches that make Kai standout in the Phoenix dining scene. There are a lot of great meals to be had in the Valley of the Sun, but very few true culinary experiences. Kai is one you shouldn’t miss.