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Discerning Diner:
Extravagant meal at Kai well worth the price
By Elan Head

December 3, 2005

I devote a ridiculous proportion of my budget to food, but not indiscriminately. Generally speaking, my favorite restaurants — and the restaurants I’ve mentioned in this column — are the kind that serve great food at everyday prices.

Heck, my primary reason for cooking is to be able to eat better than I could otherwise afford.

Still, if a restaurant is really exceptional, then I’m happy to shell out accordingly — particularly for a festive meal with family and friends.

And because it’s the season for such things, I’d like to call your attention to Kai at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort.

Not only is this exceptional restaurant more or less in our neighborhood, it’s undoubtedly one of the best high-end food values in the Valley.

I visited Kai a couple of weeks ago to check out their new menu and recent property enhancements.

Full disclosure: I didn’t foot the bill myself. Like a lot of the extravagant meals I enjoy, this one was in the name of “research” for another story.

But unlike a lot of those meals, this is one I’ll actually be reprising on my own nickel. From the concept to the food to the service, Kai is an awesome place, and one I’m excited to support.

The Wild Horse Pass Resort is located on the Gila River Indian Community, and Kai (which means “seed” in Pima) reflects that heritage.

Its Native-inspired menu is a collaboration between three chefs: consulting chef Janos Wilder, executive chef Michael O’Dowd and chef de cuisine Sandy Garcia, who grew up in the San Juan Pueblo Tribe in my home state of New Mexico.

The three share a commitment to furthering Native culture through creativity, education and sustainable — almost spiritual — agriculture. If you have the opportunity to chat with them, it’s impossible not to get caught up in their excitement.

In another restaurant, a dish like buffalo tenderloin with saguaro blossom syrup and cholla buds would be a conceit. At Kai, it’s a way of supporting Native enterprises while introducing a broad range of diners to indigenous edible plants.

It’s also incredibly good. I visited Kai about a year ago and had a solidly great meal. But the kitchen seems to have really hit its stride in the meantime — everything was better, more artful, than I remembered.

On my most recent visit, I opted for Chef Garcia’s five-course tasting menu. This is a pretty good sample of all the restaurant offers: it includes the aforementioned buffalo as well as mesquite-grilled rabbit loin and Kai’s signature lobster-tail fry bread.

My meal began with an exquisite little salad plate of watermelon, stone fruits and microgreens, accompanied by a berry-tequila “shooter” that was a surprisingly perfect touch. It ended with chocolate, lots of it — and chocolate is always a good way to go out.

I mentioned that recent enhancements were one of the reasons for my “research trip.” Now, generally I’m preoccupied with my food, not my surroundings.

But even I was impressed by the restaurant’s “temperature-controlled flatware”: warm forks for hot dishes, chilled ones for cold.

Other nice touches were Riedel glassware, Frette table linens and the rosemary-scented hand towels that preceded dessert. And Kai’s menus — which each feature an original watercolor painting by a local Pima artist — are literally works of art.

Kai is open from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For reservations, call (602) 225-0100.

You can preview the menu at

Believe me, it’s worth the trip.





































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