I did some homework on this restaurant, but not the chef. Arrived kind of thinking "Who is this guy?" 1 seating each night, 20 seats. In Phoenix?
The experience begins in the courtyard with "snacks". The presentation alone gets your attention. And the flavors. My word! The opening cucumber/gin drink is the best I have ever had. (I requested and received a 2nd one.) A few bites in, it is clear that this is extremely high level cooking. With more earnestness, I thought "Who is this guy?!?"
As I sat there enjoying, I found a terrific article about Chef Binkley. Ah ha. Went from the bottom to the top at The Inn at Little Washington and then once again at The French Laundry. That is who this guy is. I'm super glad I called to to beg my way in as a solo diner. They typically do not offer this. As he presented one of the courses personally, I thanked him for the opportunity. "You lose money allowing a solo diner to sit here." His reply was incredibly gracious.
There is so much to say about him. His passion for the entire restaurant, insisting on learning front of house at TFL. His humility. His manner of delivering food at this level while maintaining a quality of life for himself. And his comfort in his own skin as a chef. It all translates fully through to his cooking. This is an impressive man.
I spoke to him throughout the meal, including extensively at the end where I asked for his best recommendations for restaurants. He was genuinely excited to share, providing an extensive list of his favorite places in Tokyo. He mentioned chefs who wow with technique but ignore flavor. When I said I had recently had that very experience (Atalier), he replied "Unfortunately, there are many. The older I get, the simpler I think food should be."
I mentioned my upcoming reservation at Alinea. "Yes, I worked with Grant (Achatz) for many years" and offered me his specific recommendations for the place that he had received from Grant.
None of this was arrogant. Chef Binkley is down to earth, soft-spoken and instantly likeable. His kitchen runs that way - quiet, refined, skilled, focused. His food is the same.
Highlights of the meal include the big-eye tuna 4 ways. The tartare on the rice cracker with fresh wasabi was the the very best expression of it. The ham, brined and smoked in house, served with burgundy black truffle. And that incredible piece of buffalo served with (get this...) red wine caramel sauce.
Every bite was superbly envisioned, paired, cooked and seasoned. The word that kept coming to mind was "elite". It is simply some of the finest cooking out there.
The wines were also extraordinary. And so plentiful, I didn't even get to taste the last few. If I were to have a complaint, the pacing was fast, especially with regards to wine. Adding an extra 30 minutes to the experience to allow some breathing room would have helped.
At $240, this meal is vastly underpriced. It is a 3 Michelin star experience - and among the very best of those. One of the most outstanding meals of my life. I left with a similar feeling as I did at Disfrutar - with an deep (and almost overwhelming) sense of appreciation to have been on the receiving end of such an incredible experience.
Many thanks, Chef Binkley.