Call me extra, but I believe that dining out should be an experience. Sure, the food could be fantastic, but if it’s not paired with a personable server, a fun atmosphere, eclectic environs or other fanciful flourishes, I personally feel that it’s not worth it. That’s why I’m so intrigued with the concept of “dinnertainment” a la Medieval Times. It’s also why I was over the moon when I got an invite for a hosted dinner at Kasai Scottsdale, a sleek Japanese steakhouse with teppanyaki tables, a sushi bar and an extensive menu featuring Pacific Rim provisions. Teppanyaki is a traditional Japanese style of cooking that incorporates a flat griddle called a teppan and, at restaurants like Kasai, an over-the-top presentation that includes fire, flinging food into the open mouths of guests and other culinary sorcery. In other words, it’s an experience. It’s the type of place you go to celebrate special occasions like birthdays or anniversaries. The occasion could also be a Sunday night out with your gal pals, a hankering for seafood and a sneaking suspicion that the cocktails are going to be on point. So begins my sojourn at the culinary playground that is Kasai.
The first thing you should know about teppanyaki is it’s best enjoyed with a group of people due to the interactive nature of the experience. I chose to bring along a gaggle of girlfriends. Allow me to introduce my entourage. First, we have Arielle, who shares my love of seafood and all things spicy. Then, there’s Haley, who has never had so much as a scallop in her entire life. Finally, there’s Kaidey, who is six months pregnant and is, understandably, very picky about what she puts in her body. I usually refrain from trite phrasing like, “There’s something for everyone,” but listen. I could not have come in with a more persnickety assemblage of people. Finding something we could all agree on was surprisingly easy, and our server, Gigi, was attentive and amiable, immediately firing off food and drink recommendations to help us navigate the robust bill of fare.
Walking into the airy 11,000-square-foot building – formerly known as Sapporo – feels like waltzing into a chic nightclub. Energetic pop music pulsated through the expansive dining room and exclamations of exaltation echoed off the walls. Despite its size and upbeat atmosphere, it was at once exciting and relaxing, electrifying but cozy. The hostess walked us to our table – half a dozen chairs circling the aforementioned griddle. We giggle with excitement. Seeing the stove where a scrumptious spectacle would soon take place evoked a child-like giddiness in us. But first, it was time to take a look at the menu.
Browsing the menu is an experience in itself. It is an exquisite lineup of Pan-Asian delights from poke and kung pao shrimp to teriyaki chicken and pad Thai. You could make a meal out of the appetizers alone. We started with the crispy Brussels sprouts, slathered in a tangy whiskey glaze and studded with pomegranate seeds that added texture and sweetness. I should disclose that I am a pescatarian, which means I don’t eat meat but I love seafood. My carnivorous companions, however, ordered the chicken gyoza smothered with a piquant sesame chili paste and the barbecue ribs marinated in a mild Mongolian sauce. I may not find meat pleasing to the palate, but these dishes were both extremely pleasing to the eye. The ribs were neatly stacked on top of each other and garnished with a single piece of seaweed and the gyoza were plump and lined up on the plate in a neat little row. Next, we shared the veggie roll, succulent cylinders filled with cucumber, avocado, asparagus and yamagobo. Then came the main event: the teppanyaki meal. Each feast features several courses comprised of a shrimp starter, mushroom soup, salad, fried rice, sautéed veggies and a Dole Whip dessert. “Just like at Disneyland!” owner Michael Russello exclaimed when he paid a visit to our table. Kasai offers more than 30 combinations, including filet mignon and salmon, sea bass and scallops and chicken breast and calamari. We opted for the shrimp and lobster because we were feeling fancy. Speaking of fancy, our teppanyaki chef tossed his utensils in the air, ignited the teppan and teased us as he skillfully cooked our meal. We loved every part of it – and Haley even tried the lobster.
In my estimation, a good meal also isn’t complete without a good cocktail (or three) and Kasai doesn’t disappoint in that department, either. The jazzy Passion Mango Martini, which combines citrus rum and vodka, ginger mango puree and raspberry liqueur, has been the restaurant’s signature drink since the Sapporo days. The P. King – an ode to Kasai’s original owner Patrick King – is a whimsical whiskey drink with lychee liqueur, fresh lime juice and a dash of bitters. The Violet Solstice, a lilac-tinged tipple featuring Hendricks Mid-Summer Solstice gin, crème de violette, triple sec and lime juice, was my favorite. Of course, the food and fun of the teppanyaki tables is the focal point at this high-energy haven, but the cocktails certainly elevated the experience.
IF YOU GO
14344 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale