Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Belated Birthday Dinner: A Long Story by Penny Mull

Oh, where to start? Welllllllll...Gary had to decline a 5:00 meeting in order to get home in time to take me to my special belated birthday dinner. So glad he did! OMG! What a dinner I was in for. (Oh, gosh, I just did that double preposition at the end of a sentence again!) As I suspected, we were headed to Kai. (Insert very big grin here!)

For those of you who don't know, Kai is located at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass resort on the tribal lands of the Gila River Indian Community. Kai is the only Arizona restaurant given a 5-star rating by the Forbes Travel Guide in their 54th annual listing of worldwide 5-star and 4-star hospitality establishments. And there are only 25 five-star restaurants in North America! Kai also received a 5-diamond award from AAA for their 2012 five-diamond winners. Not that anyone is keeping count or anything, but this is Kai's fourth 5-star rating and sixth 5-diamond rating. So you can see, going to Kai to eat is a really big thing!

I also need to mention that we were not dining in the main room. No, we were in another private room for, wait for it, a wine dinner! Oooooh! I was thrilled, as wine dinners are my favorite kind of meal! (Lush!)

We were the first guests to arrive for the wine dinner. We met Kai's sommelier, Pillsbury's sommelier, and the wine producer, Sam Pillsbury--who used to be a film maker. He is a very interesting man; he was born in Connecticut, but moved to New Zealand as a boy. He fell in love with Arizona when he came here to do a film, and decided to become a winemaker here. He offered us a glass of a white blend that he had just bottled that day. Never had a wine that "fresh" before; and he said it probably had "bottle shock", but he just wanted us to try a brand new wine, so to speak. It was fairly good, so I suspect it will be wonderful when it's had some time in the bottle.

When we finished the new wine, we were served Sam's Chardonnay. Now that is a wine that has had time to mature, and it was delicious. They refilled my glass, which I realized later was a mistake. But I drank it down, because I was taught to clean my plate and glass of everything served to me! Oh, and they came around with some hors d' oeuvres, and I tried two of them: one was a scrumptious empanada and the other was a fabulous scallop seviche.

OK, then the bread course began, and we had a pepper bread, a sweet bread and one of four traditional American Indian breads, (I had the sweet one--they seemed to know me too well). They had poured Queen Creek olive oil, (pressed from olives grown at the Gila Community) into tiny bowls containing seeds, to dip our breads into. Yummy, yummy, yummy! And we still hadn't started the dinner with wine pairings. Then we were served an amuse bouche; oh, heavens! It was a little puff pastry filled with yummy salmon. Melt in your mouth! I realized, at this point, that I could be very full at the end, which I was, but not uncomfortably so. I guess the meal took so long, (and the portions were not gigantic), that we had time to digest as we ate. Good thing, too. I had enough trouble being tipsy when we left; I didn't need to be stuffed, too!

I scanned the menu, shown here. They gave each of us a card with the menu printed on it--the artwork is done by Mike Medicine Horse Zillioux, a member of the Gila River Indian community. Prior to serving the first course, a staff member told all of us briefly how the area and tribes were named by settlers. Very interesting. And he then opened up the drapes to let us view the setting sun, which was flat-out gorgeous last night. Such an intense orange appearing over the mountain range. Lovely! The first photo is the front of my menu card, the second is the front of Gary's menu, and the last is (duh!) the menu.

The first wine was poured and then the first course started to arrive. Oh, my! I had seen that foie gras was on the menu, which I had sworn I would never eat. OK, see, I have a real problem with how the birds are raised for their livers. It's inhumane. But I knew that Gary wanted me to try everything, so I did. OMG! OMG! OMG! I could not believe how delish it was! The wait staff came around and caramelized the top of the foie gras with little torches. Luckily that's all that got torched. (Snort!) The liver absolutely melted in your mouth. Truly. It was sensational! Little bits of fruit were scattered across the plate. They were ripe and tasty with the other food served. The duck confit, the three little beignets, the coulis, foam and brioche were fabulous, and I nearly licked the platter clean! And every single item paired beautifully with the Viognier that was poured. Oh, my! I took a photo with my iPhone, which does not have a flash (old 3G version), and I cut off the beignets. Drat! So I am showing you the photo Gary took. Gorgeous platter, isn't it? :^)

The second course arrived after the light red blend was poured--this was my favorite, (as well as Gary's), wine of the night. And, they kept refilling glasses, so I have no idea how much wine I actually drank. Goober. Anyway, the tiny quail was stuffed with wild game pate. I. do. not. like. wild. game. And. I. loved. this! Oh, help it was so beautifully seasoned and just disappeared down my throat sooo quickly! You can see the caramel corn & nuts in a strip down the side of the plate--so unusual, but went so well with the quail, as did the yummy polenta. Oh, my. Here's Gary's photo because mine showed my dirty bread plate next to it. Classy. Remember, people, I was drinking wine and had a phone camera. The two are not conducive for taking good pictures! That's my excuse, and I am sticking to it. I have no idea why Gary could photograph the food so much better than I did. (Yes, yes, I do.)

We had a palate cleanser next, so that we could get ready for the entree. It was a fantastic fruit sorbet with gooseberry sauce that I inhaled. Honestly. They gave me mouth-to-mouth immediately. It obviously helped. I'm still here. Oh, no, not really. I'm just pulling your leg--figuratively speaking, of course!

Our next wine was a big red--very nice, but not as good as the last pour! Our third course, the entree, was out-of-this-world wonderful. The chef explained that he had started the mole rub on the pork tenderloin a week prior, in order to infuse the flavors he wanted to achieve. Oh, did he achieve them! And then some. Tenderloin is my favorite cut of pork or beef. And he did this one justice! I tasted pork belly once, and found it delicious, but I don't order it. It's just too, too terrible for your cholesterol levels, truly! But, I ate every scrap of pork belly on my plate, don't you just know! It was sooooo gooooood! The potato gratin (I have never had better), the parsnips, and the rhubarb worked perfectly with the pork duo. And everything paired wonderfully with the big red blend! This chef really knows how to construct a dish for a wine pairing!

Before I finish this description, I must tell you, (yes, yes, I must), that for each course, depending on what would be served, either chilled or warmed silverware was placed before us. I mean, good grief, no wonder they are a 5-star restaurant! I don't remember this part from my previous visit to Kai. But perhaps my memory is failing me. Nawww. Yeah. Probably. I am older than dirt, after all.

Next up was a very nice Petite Syrah, which the dessert chef paired with chocolate. I think that's a no-brainer. His dessert was really good. But Gary and I both felt it was our least-favorite course of the night. And it was planned and prepared by a different chef, after all. And, by this time, we were full. And tipsy. Yes, yes, we were, although Gary sobered up quite quickly. Good thing, as he had to drive us home! But, me, not so much. I remember absolutely everything; but I had the giggles all the way home. Not really the giggles. More like very loud cackling. Poor Gary. He had to listen to that for at least a half hour. It sucks to be him. Here's the dessert photo:

I must admit it was a very pretty course. You probably cannot see it, but the dark chocolate on the top has "Kai" imprinted into it. Cool, huh?

We did sit in the lobby for a bit before we went home. That was, as I mentioned before, so Gary would feel secure about driving us home. Meanwhile, I was behaving myself in the lobby. It wasn't until after we left that I got really goofy. I need to tell you that when you leave Kai, the valet brings your car around with two bottles of Voss Water, a small box with two chocolates in it, and a thank-you card. Now, is that a class act, or what? Yup, 5-star, for sure.

Honestly, if you are in the Phoenix area, try to give Kai a go. It is soooo worth it!

Neither Gary nor I slept worth beans last night. I think there was too much rich food and too much wine.

I had to take a long nap today. Gary had to go to work. What's wrong with this picture? As far as I am concerned, absolutely nothing!

Oh, I must mention, and this has nothing to do with dinner, that I got a wonderful surprise when I got home. I found out that I was a winner, twice, in the Outlawz 2000 Member Party! How cool is that? And congratulations to all the other winners!

Have a great rest of the week. Bon appetit!


  1. Sounds like a wonderful dinner. Made me hungary, thirsty and jealous. Happy that you had such fun.

  2. Wow, Penny! What an amazing dinner! Your description made me very hungry (and envious)! I'm glad your birthday dinner was so special!

  3. Gary!!! What a guy!!! Princess for a day, how awesome. Happy Birthday Penny and so many more. That was a fantastic dinner everything sounded totally amazing and I love how the food looked. I love how the menu looked, the art work is wonderful. I bet inside the restaurant it was stunning. Their are so many really different restaurant in the Phoenix area but I have not been west since 2006, so it has been awhile. Enjoy your day.
    Hugs, Patricia

  4. Wow! What an "out of this world" evening! Glad it was so special for you. You deserve it! The art was beautiful! Happy belated birthday!
    Marie XX

  5. wow - you should be a food critic writer LOL thoroughly enjoyed you sharing this with us...had me smiling (-:
    and super congrats on your wins!!!

  6. That sounds like an incredible meal and you described it so beautifully :) Congrats on winning as well!

  7. Argh. I just wrote a long comment and my freakin' Mac ate it. *sigh*

    So here goes. Again.

    Such fun to read this blog post. Your dinner sounds absolutely divine.

    I love wine pairing dinners. They're such a wonderful way to try new wines and foods that you might not ordinarily eat.

    We're always looking to try new wine, so we'll be on the look out for Pillsbury wines here in the wilds of NJ. I'm especially interested in the Viognier and Petite Sirah.

    Congrats on winning some prizes from the Outlawz. What a great way to continue your birthday celebration!

  8. oh Penny,Sorry I missed this post. First Happy belated Birthday to you, and second congrats on being a double winner at Outlawz. Now third, I love love love your post and all the pics and hearing of your fantastic dinner with your prince charming (Gary). I just don't know if I would have been able to walk straight after all those wine taste. But I do know I would have been nutty and giggling all the way home because that's the effect to much wine usually has on me. I am happy you had a great time and were treated like a Queen for a day. Those plates especially the tenderloin and the desserts are my favorite (to bad I have never had any of them). The pics and the food look delicious. Hugs always!

  9. Congrats on your Outlawz win, Mom! And I'm glad you blogged about the wine dinner. What an amazing night! I do wish I could have seen you in your post-wine glory. :) Anyway, I'm now really hungry for Kai. Love that place. Best restaurant in AZ.


Thank you for visiting my blog! I appreciate the kind comments more than I can say! :^)
Hugs, Penny