Phoenix and food is a perfect match. From resorts with multiple restaurants to world famous pizza and Southwest-oriented restaurants, the region has always had a culinary bent. Two talented, humble chefs have elevated the food offerings at their gourmet dining rooms.
Chef de Cuisine Ryan Swanson innovates by foraging and sourcing farm ingredients while honoring Native American traditions at The Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa, 20 minutes south of Sky Harbor PHX Airport. At the northern end of town, Chef Anthony DeMuro marries classical and local techniques with the romantic and breathtaking atmosphere of Different Pointe of View at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort.
Kai, seeded culinary innovation
When you enter Wild Horse Pass Resort reception, you hear the lyrical sounds of Native American music and see the historic mural panels depicting their key cultural activities. The resort is well managed by friendly Sheraton staff, and the calm and holistic ambiance reflects the ownership by the Gila River Indian Community.
The property emphasizes geo tourism, a new term described as sustaining the geographical character of a place including the environment, culture, aesthetics, and heritage. The 500 culturally themed rooms and public spaces display pottery, painting, and artifacts from regional tribes. The Aji Spa offers Native treatments and the walking trail offers historical notes about the area. Horse riding is offered at Koli Equestrian Center and yes, wild horses roam the area.
The culinary star of the resort is Kai restaurant. The name means “seed” in the native Pima language, and the close connection to the local land and traditions are evident. Following in the footsteps of the local community, Executive Chef Ryan and sommelier Kevin Lewis greeted guests at a recent winemaker dinner by saying, “Skek hudinik,” Good evening, and “Sap e masma,” How are you?
At the beginning of the meal, many special touches were evident. As we were seated, a server asked us if we wanted cucumber slices or citrus wedges in our water. The extra amuse bouche tastes included cucumber noodles with mesquite tzatziki and a diver scallop fritter with vanilla corn pudding. You quickly understand why Kai is the only Five-Diamond AAA and Forbes Five-Star awarded restaurant in Greater Phoenix.
Swanson likes to surprise and delight his guests in other ways. The menu for the dinner listed four items, but he added more surprises and an “elixir” or palate cleanser of Kai-inspired gray thorn tea infused with native chiles and citrus garnished with yucca blossoms.
In another unexpected touch, the chef teased everyone by walking around the room with salted, plump foie gras, which he then oven roasted and served with 60-day corn, pepita granola, charred grapes, date foie gras mousse, and huckleberry fluid gel.
The creative inspiration for cooking comes in many ways, said Swanson. “I had a dream that I walked into a field and found berries. While hiking later, I saw wolfberries—similar to mulberries—and picked them for dinner.”
For the main course of mesquite grilled brisket, the chef pickled the wolfberries and crafted them into a thick, savory-sweet sauce. In ballet-like harmony, the servers lifted ceramic cloches covers to reveal the brisket on top of the colorful sauce accompanied by cheddar and blue corn grits.
Chef Swanson uses modern kitchen tools to craft his special 13-course Journey Tasting Menu, but he sears his wild boar in an old-fashioned cast iron pan. At home, he listens to vinyl records to relax as he dreams up new food creations.
A Different Pointe of View on Gourmet Cooking
Tucked among waterfalls, scenic overlooks, cliff walls and caves, Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort is literally built into the mountain and cliffside landscape. Each of buildings has a unique topography, all close to the eight pools, hidden valley and the Tocaloma Spa and Salon. Yet you are only steps away from the trails of the Phoenix Mountain Reserve adjacent to the property—and downtown Phoenix is a few minutes’ drive south.
The best view at the resort, however, is on the patio and through the dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows of A Different Pointe of View (DPOV) restaurant overlooking downtown Phoenix to the south and mountains to the east and west. You hop a golf cart ride to the apex of the hill to the AAA Four-Diamond restaurant.
Executive Chef Anthony DeMuro mixes Mediterranean influences with regional foods at DPOV. The welcome tastes at DPOV include bread with dipping bowls of local extra virgin olive oil and assorted house made spreads such as goat cheese, roasted tomato, honey tarragon butter, piquillo pepper pesto or raspberry and honey butter. As DeMuro walks around greeting guests, he may recommend the ciabatta with the roasted tomato and the baguette with the EVOO and chat about the menu.
The tasting menu, a custom experience with five courses, is DeMuro’s playground. The pleasure of cooking, says DeMuro, is interaction with guests. At the “Insider’s View Winemaker Dinner,” DeMuro cooks in front of the guests as at a chef’s table.
To start the meal, an award-winning lobster bisque features an aromatic lemon zest cream that lightens and brightens the traditional French-style bisque. The seared pork belly with asparagus tips and charred baby purple onions offered an appealing blend of flavors and textures.
As we settled into our entrée, the city lights came on like sparkling stars pointing to the town. But my attention was drawn to the prosciutto wrapped monkfish in a saffron lemon sauce with piquillo peppers and Israeli couscous. The lemon zest and basil micro greens in the sauce were a perfect foil to the rich texture and smooth flavors of the fish. Though lobster is a DeMuro specialty, I chose the bistro steak, extra moist and savory from the marinade of tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce and herbs, was paired beautifully with local goat cheese au gratin potatoes.
After sampling the crème brulée with biscotti and a blueberry parfait, we enjoyed the final small, sweet treats—mignardises—which included a playful almond joy treat with coconut, almond and chocolate.
Both DPOV and Kai take fine dining to a higher creative level in Phoenix. Expect meals from Swanson and DeMuro to refer to local traditions and cultures—with many of their talented culinary touches. And there may be a few surprises as you progress from cucumber noodles to almond joy.
FTC Disclaimer: This article was researched with support from VisitPhoenix https://www.visitphoenix.com/. Opinions expressed herein belong to the author. Photos are credited to the author, Deborah Grossman, unless otherwise noted.