Binkley’s is a bevy of culinary prowess
The ensemble cast functions like a culinary symphony. The highly trained staff moves in perfect harmony, with a full knowledge of each note being performed by the gastronomic conductor. The presentations are like Beethoven’s Fifth, both delicate and bold with a finish that leaves the gourmand to marvel.
Binkley’s is one of the highest regarded restaurants in the Phoenix Metro area, and in many ways, for good reason. Chef Kevin Binkley is the mastermind behind several Valley restaurants, the flagship being the one that bears his name, Binkley’s. Located at the end of a modest strip center in Cave Creek, Arizona, the building appears to be a place you might find a the proverbial hole-in-the-wall rather than a high-end fine dining restaurant. The interior, while with some nice accents, looks like it was designed by a family member rather than a professional designer. The space is a bit small (expanded with outdoor patio), providing an intimate dining experience without being too crowded. The lighting was quite nice, with each table featuring a contemporary teardrop pendent light. The décor, materials and color scheme appear to compete rather than complement. The overall atmosphere slightly detracts from the creations coming out of the kitchen. The performance is amazing, however the stage could use a little work.
My date was running late for our reservations, so I decided to check in and get seated. I stood by the host podium for what seemed like a long period of time as one, then another, and yet another person who obviously worked at the restaurant paid no attention to me. I was quite baffled as to why no one had greeted me. I did see two other individuals who were doing some sort of filming, and I had a camera bag in tow, so perhaps they thought I was part of that crew. I took my bag and set it on a chair in a cozy little waiting area and stood, expecting someone to greet me. Still, no one said a word…even after the filmmakers left. I thought I would wait and see how long it would take for someone to greet me. Since my date was tardy, I was in no hurry. I waited 15 minutes before finally deciding that I should just make my presence known.
After getting seated, I soon ordered an appetizer while I waited for my date to arrive. What drew my attention to the slow roasted beet salad was the addition of persimmons, a fruit I rarely see on a restaurant menu. The dish also had watercress, pecans and chèvre mousse. I had the dish half eaten before my date arrived and it took great restraint not to finish it off. The mixture of flavors and textures was symphonic.
At Binkley’s there are three methods in which to conduct your dining experience. You can simply order à la carte off the menu, or you can try a 4-6 course tasting menu. Finally, there is improvisational dining, where you decide on the quantity of items and the chef will surprise you. I had heard of improv dining, but had not yet tried the endeavor. Even though I had my eye on a couple of the menu items, my date and I decided it would be fun to try the improv method. I had the impression that the dishes being prepared would be unique for our table, but rather the chef decides on items from the existing menu. In hindsight, I wish we had gone with the tasting menu and selected courses that appealed to us most. Regardless, it was still an amazing culinary adventure.
After announcing our dining decision to the server, a slew of amuse bouche soon followed. I was enamored by the vast array of serving utensils, stone/flatware and apparatuses used throughout the meal. I have dined at some of the finest restaurants around the world, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such an extensive artistic display of food before. The serving-ware was often so unique that it seemed as though it could have been custom made just for Chef Binkley’s creations. Most of the items presented were simply stunning, a food photographer’s fantasy.
While the server staff was quite attentive, professional and extraordinary at their jobs, one thing I thought about later was how impersonal it felt. There must have been half a dozen people waiting on us, but we never developed a rapport with any of them, which I think is part of the dining experience.
Throughout the meal there was one surprise after another, from the various amuse bouche I mentioned, to the palate cleansers, to a digestive tea made with crystallized ginger, rosemary and Key lime. Several of our courses were served in devices that were reminiscent of things one might find in a science lab. Take for example the test tube smoke-infused consommé, or the digestive tea that looked like a couple of beaker vessels wrapped in hardware. The top portion housed the fresh ingredients; the bottom portion had what looked like a bunsen burner heating the water right at our table. As soon as the water came to a boil, a server came by to pour the hot H20 into the top portion of the contraption where the tea and other ingredients rested. The mixture slowly made its way back to the bottom vessel. Once the process had completed, another server came by to fill our small Asian style teacups.
Just prior to our desserts arriving, a server brought a copper pot with a wonderful scent-infused piece of dry-ice to the table. The smoky vapor enveloped the table as the sweet scent tantalized our senses in preparation for the dessert course.
The Milk and Honey dessert arrived first. Four different types of milk with four complementary sides completed this dish. Cashew Milk was paired with quinoa and candied cashews. Goat milk was paired with a goat milk cheesecake that had fresh pomegranate and mint molasses. Then there was the oatmeal milk with an oatmeal cookie and cream cheese frosting. Finally, cow’s milk with a chocolate honey crème. So unique and delicious.
Because it was still the holiday season, we had a Gingerbread pudding with butterscotch sauce, gingerbread man cookies and a meringue snowman with candied hazelnuts, cranberries and sugarplums.
While I think Binkley’s falls a little short in a few areas that goes into an overall exceptional dining experience, including a slight compromise on palate pleasures for the art of the meal, Binkley’s is overall a top-notch experience that will send your eyes and taste buds into a whirlwind of sensations. Binkley’s will certainly leave you thoroughly impressed by the culinary prowess of the entire team.
If you’ve ever dined at Binkley’s Restaurant in Cave Creek, Arizona, please leave a comment below and share your experience.
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Take a closer look at Binkley’s in the extraordinary video by Andrew Gooi: