Without a doubt, Binkley’s is the best restaurant in Phoenix. Probably Arizona for that matter. I’ve been to the four-time James Beard Award nominee, Kevin Binkley’s restaurant in Cave Creek many times before it closed in June 2016 and reopened this past December 2016 in a more central location – a small and quaint bungalow at 23rd and Osborn, in Phoenix. He has scaled back, selling two of his other restaurants so he can concentrate on this special location. He still retains Café Bink.
At the new Binkley’s, Chef Kevin and his wife Amy deliver a truly personal and memorable experience, a 25 course, 4 1/2 hour extravaganza. Some people complain about the $160 price tag, plus additional wine costs. But, if you have anything similar in New York, Chicago, or Europe for that matter, you would be paying at least double for the same experience. Does this place compare to an Alinea, or Eleven Madison Park, or an Arzak or Tickets? Quite frankly, no. It is not in the same league, and while there are many hits, there are also some misses. And yet, you may never have such a lovely evening as you will experience here. It really is a one of a kind event. The venue holds no more than 24-25 seats. You start your evening by being seated in their lovely garden, with other guests, where you are served the house cocktail-of-the-day; ours, a watermelon and mint aperitif. After that, out comes five small bites, and you get to relax, meet some new people and you can wander around the vegetable garden if you wish. I was not interested in sharing my evening when I arrived. But after a drink and some great food, I warmed up, as did everyone else. This lasted about 30-45 minutes. Then we moved inside to the bar and lounge area, where we had another drink and another five appetizers with our little group. We were almost sorry to part ways when we were seated at our table for two, where we had ringside seats looking directly into the open kitchen. Every night Binkley’s serves one menu only, a multicourse, and multi-hour dinner prepared in an intimate setting (of course they check ahead if you have any special food needs). Chef Kevin came out and spoke to us, inviting us into, “his house”, to be his guests. We were free to wander where we like, ask questions, come into his kitchen to observe, or even help out, if we so wished. You get unfettered access to the whole house. You get the feel of being invited into someone’s private home and being able to share in a magnificent dinner party. Every week he changes up his menu, and at least 30% of the dishes are new. The restaurant is only open Wednesday through Saturday. This way, he can prepare new items and menu for the following week. I recommend booking the day the reservations open, one month ahead. You pre-pay when you book, but the beauty is you don’t have to open your wallet at the end of the meal. The $160 plus 22% gratuity is already taken care of. There are also three wine tastings. The most expensive being $190 (I recommend taking an Uber, if you are doing this). We opted to order a la carte wines the night of, so we had to pay for that at the end of our meal. The staff is large for a small number of guests, and they fall over themselves to please you and make you feel totally at home. As each course comes out, each dish is explained in extravagant detail. Sometimes even the chef comes over to explain the dish. And in the kitchen, you can witness all the chefs working in perfect harmony.
Most of the food is delicious, interesting and well-crafted, tickling and teasing our taste buds. Some dishes were too salty (the morel mushroom ragout) or acidic (the yellow tomato gazpacho soup), or watery (the king crab risotto). But then there were hits like the frozen foie gras and nectarine granite, the asparagus in a blanket with maple mustard, or the cherries stuffed with guinea liver mousse in a spiced port reduction. Other delights were the oysters in a horseradish zabaglione, the miniature crab sliders, the black truffle guacamole, the braised rabbit leg with bacon tortellini and English peas, and the tender slow cooked prime rib in a miso au jus that melted on your tongue. For dessert, a standout was the creamy apricot ice cream covered in a warm blueberry Chambord.
I find his new kitchen not as “kitschy” as his Cave Creek restaurant, where every dish had lights, bells and whistles. Here it is more about focusing on the food. There is more effort, inspiration, and respect that goes into every ingredient and to the plating. He also supports the local growers and farmers. One piece of equipment he did bring from Cave Creek was his siphons. He provides tableside tea service at the end of each meal. Ours was a saffron tea with turmeric, ginger, rosemary, coriander, fennel and anise seed with lemon. It was very soothing after that huge meal.
When leaving each guest receives a gift bag with a copy of the menu as well as some locally grown fruit. Ours were three sweet peaches. We shook hands with the chef and were escorted outside. Binkley’s should be considered for Arizona’s first Michelin star restaurant. The place isn’t stuffy, but more approachable than most, in a cozy, quaint, warm, quiet and refined and personal way. It may not have been the most amazing food I have ever had, but it was one of my most memorable experiences that I won’t soon forget.