Story and photography by Manos Angelakis
Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa
Gila River Indian Community
Located at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa, Kai is the first restaurant featuring Native American Cuisine to receive both an AAA-Five Diamond and a Mobil Five Star award.
Marion Betancourt, one of our contributing writers, worked with Executive Chef Michael O’Dowd and Executive Sous Chef Joshua Johnson to bring traditional recipes from the Sonoma Desert’s Gila River Indian Community – the area where the resort is located – to a sophisticated interpretation, using European culinary techniques with ingredients that would be normally cultivated by the home-cooks of the Pima and Maricopa tribes. (see The New Native American Cuisine in the Bookshelf section).
But it is one thing to read recipes in a book, and quite another to actually taste the food created at a restaurant's kitchen. So, during our recent trip to Arizona, we made sure to stay at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa and sample Kai’s menu. The result was a very interesting dinner that also served as an introduction to the rich culture of the Gila River farmers and ranchers.
Kai is a Pima word for “seed” and a number of the appetizers and entrées used assorted seeds as part of the recipe. For example Pepita seeds were part of a Lobster, Pumpkin and Mesquite Grilled Squash Bisque; Mesquite-bean molasses was in the Suckling Pig Torta Enhanced with Epazote Mole. Sonora-desert plants and roots were used as sides for some of the main courses, for example the Grilled Tenderloin of Buffalo had Cholla buds and Saguaro Blossom Syrup.
To better understand the kitchen's capabilities we decided to try one of their tasting menus. They have two. The Short Story opens with an amuse bouche and then continues with the Lobster, Pumpkin & Mesquite Grilled Squash Bisque which is followed by the Spanish Sea Bass. An Intermezzo cleanses the palate then the Grilled Tenderloin of Tribal Buffalo follows, and then an Artisan Cheese plate with honey, and Dessert. The Journey, an expanded version of the tasting menu, adds to the above Hand Picked Lettuce, a Sous Vide of Cool Weather Roots, a Foie Gras, a Seafood Potpourri and an Escargot dish. The menu, aside from the tasting section, has such other delicacies as Oysters, Caviar (white sturgeon from California) and Foie Gras from the Hudson Valley; Open Faced Pheasant Machaca in a Saffron Pasta Ribbon; Escargot, Truffle, Wild Mushrooms and Caramel Goat Cheese; a Lobster Degustation and numerous other very interesting dishes. Both tasting menus were exceptional and the wine pairings were very appropriate.
The wine list is quite extensive and included some of the better Arizona wines (see Arizona Wines story in the Oeno File section) and a number of California as well as international (mostly Spanish and Italian) wines.
The restaurant's decorations are based on traditional tribal themes including weaved baskets and mats. Simple and very effective.
A double-sided fireplace at the bar/entrance of the restaurant radiates warmth and a welcoming feeling while you wait to be seated, especially if you decide to have one of the signature cocktails the bar offers.
For someone with an interest in Native American Indian life, Kai opens a small window into their culture and culinary resources and capabilities.
© March 2012 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.