Chow A Gastronomic Oasis: Binkley’s
by Harold Jacobs, February 26, 2007
Like most people, I’m wary about trying a pricey restaurant in some out-of-the-way place—even if it has received a high degree of local acclaim. For a native New Yorker like me, rural Cave Creek, Arizona, is such a place. But when my wife and I recently visited friends in Scottsdale, they suggested that the four of us go to Binkley’s, a restaurant they had not yet eaten at but had heard only good things about. To my delight, I found it to be an exceptional restaurant, well worth a special trip.
Chef Kevin Binkley graduated from the Scottsdale Culinary Institute in 1995. Within four years, he became the executive sous chef at Patrick O’Connell’s renowned restaurant in Virginia, the Inn at Little Washington. In 1999, Binkley further developed his skills working under the legendary chef Thomas Keller at the French Laundry in Napa Valley. Kevin and his wife, Amy, opened Binkley’s in 2004, and he soon achieved recognition as a culinary virtuoso.
In his French-inspired, modern American fare, the chef demonstrates a true talent for pairing ingredients in surprisingly delicious combinations, such as a roasted rib eye cap with blood orange or a pheasant breast with pineapple. Anything on the frequently changing menu can be ordered as an individual item or as part of a four-, five- or six-course tasting menu, which varies in price from $60 to $77 per person (with wine pairings, add $35 to $45). My companions and I opted to have the six-course tasting menu, which includes a cheese plate and a dessert.
There were 12 hot or cold appetizers to choose from. Our favorites included a butter-soft lamb carpaccio with caperberry, wax beans, frisee, shaved red onion, haricot vert, and a black-pepper vinaigrette; an ethereal curried pear soup made from pears poached in white wine and sprinkled with pistachio dust; a crispy seared foie gras with Szechwan pepper, date compote, sunflower sprouts, and gooseberries ($12 extra); and a moist Spanish mackerel with cilantro, garlic confit, and preserved lemon, sitting in a white wine broth. A hard-boiled, petite quail’s egg with its off-white color and elegant appearance gave this dish an additional layer of stylish complexity. After enjoying these palate pleasers, we agreed that we were having a first-class dining experience. Our attitudes collectively shifted from cautious optimism to joyful expectation.
Among the eight fish and meat entrees, I opted for a delicately textured Australian barramundi fish filet served with spring garlic, salsify, and sunchokes, encircled by a roasted sweet pepper vinaigrette. The nutty, sweet sunchokes, when combined with the slightly salty, oyster-like taste of the salsify provided the relatively bland fish with an intriguing depth of flavor, making for a very satisfying second course. For my meat selection, I enjoyed a veal chop topped with a demi-glace and accompanied by sweet potato tortellini, Brussels sprouts, slow-roasted shallots, and bacon. Both entrees were enhanced by sous vide cooking, a technique in which vacuum-packed ingredients are slowly simmered in 180- to 200-degree water. This results in increased succulence, rich taste, and velvety textures. My sous vided veal chop was finished by being rapidly browned at high heat to provide an attractive, crunchy exterior. When the dish arrived, the juicy chop looked and tasted wonderful.
Instead of the six courses we expected, to our amazement we actually were served 16 courses, the additional 10 made up of amuses-bouches delivered to our table throughout the meal. These small one- or two-bite portions further excited our taste buds and showcased the chef’s imaginative and diverse repertoire. Early on, we were given a shot glass containing a splendid butternut squash soup with a maple syrup and creme fraiche glaze. Prior to dessert, we were presented with a small orange-vanilla milkshake inspired by a traditional creamsicle but made with blood orange syrup and vanilla ice cream topped with a dab of huckleberry whipped cream. Alongside it sat a mini green apple soda float made from the restaurant’s own carbonated green apple juice, creating a play on color and subtle variations in sweet and tart accents. All the amuses were among the most clever and flavorful I have ever eaten.
At Binkley’s I experienced inspired and sophisticated cooking, reliance on local, organic, and seasonal ingredients, and strikingly beautiful presentations. Amy Binkley runs the front of the house and has assembled a friendly and knowledgeable wait staff. Our waitress, Rebecca, answered all of our questions about the food and wine with courteous proficiency. Our courses were deftly delivered in a timely manner, even though the restaurant was fully packed. If you plan to be in the Scottsdale area and dine at this restaurant, make your reservation well in advance because it is among the finest in the country and local food enthusiasts have embraced it.
Chow Town: Chronogram’s online resource for the latest restaurant openings, hidden gems, and food news.
February 26, 2007