November 17, 2021

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.

The experience begins in the courtyard with "snacks". I read a quote from the chef that said "If you were at my home, we would not be inside for 3 hours."
Juiced cucumbers, ginger beer, flash frozen citrus spheres, Hendricks gin. The best gin drink I've ever had. I asked for (and received) a 2nd.
California spot prawn Ceviche, huckleberry, basil, ginger (very fruit forward)
Korean fluke sashimi, shisu, yuzu, house made sweet and sour sauce
Pickles 3 ways (asparagus, string bean, caper berries). I heard the server tell another table "Don't eat the stem of the caper berries" - after I had already eaten mine. :D
Olives, stuffed with french cheese, sprinkles with french paprika and fennel pollen
Mission fig in fois gras cream
Date stuffed with cocoa butter, skin replaced with puffed rice
5 spice Peking duck, slow cooked 45 minutes, apricot mustarda. Crazy good.
At the table. While they bring others in to be seated, fresh-fried pork rinds with...
Applewood smoked buttercream, bacon bits, diced apple. The crunchy, salty rinds with this sweet unctuousness was heavenly.
Rosemary, pineapple, crab shooter. Pop the "edible bubble" with your nose, inhale the rosemary scent, knock the rest back like a shot.
"Polynesian big eye Tuna 4 ways". Lightly poached belly with shaved ginger blossom salad, vinaigrette was acidic...
Marinated in bourbon maple syrup and soy sauce...
Tartare with lean tuna, "heavily seasoned", with puffed rice paired with...
A puffed rice chip. The tartare on its own was fine. But placed on the salty/crunchy rice crisp, it absolutely sprung to life. The fresh wasabi gave it even another level of flavor. This goes on my favorite dishes of all time.
Tuna salad sandwich, capers, cornichon, watercress
Freshly grated 2 year old wasabi
Sweet curry pear soup paired with...
Chorizo fritters. Encouraged to go back and forth to contrast the sweet soup with the salty/savory fritters.
Honey nut squash risotto, pecans, pumpkin seeds, cranberries, kumquat, 3 year parmesan
Raspberry and yuzu soda, yuzu zest atop the straw. Very "Inn at Little Washington"
"Black truffle ham and egg". Scrambled egg, black truffle, chives paired with...
Duroc ham, brined and smoked in house, with burgundy black truffle abd...
Black truffle honey mustard
Organic, Colorado buffalo tenderloin, savory red wine caramel sauce (read that again!), cauliflower puree, roasted shitake mushroom duxelle
The cook was incredible. And the softness and flavor of this meat was to die for. Also added to my favorite dishes of all time.
Digestive. Tumeric, coriander, ginger, hibiscus, lavender, rosemary from the table centerpiece....
Boiled, which forced the water to the top...
Poured into a double-walled glass with a luxardo cherry and luxardo cherry syrup
Very difficult to explain what this tasted like. It was completely unique. Not like a tea, not like a juice. Delicious and slightly addicting.
Tropical fruit semifredo. Papaya, guava, passion fruit, leechee, coconut, mango.
House made peanut butter Irish creme. Duuude... Smelled like the freshest peanut butter, and it was heaven to drink.
Peanut butter and tahitian vanilla Panna Cotta, topped with dark chocolate, crushed peanuts, roasted banana spheres
The space was in a home and designed to feel like home. Warm, rich tones. So inviting. The space just envelops you.
Super creative dishware.
Especially the flatware.
My seat, looking into the kitchen. I have to imagine this is by design, giving the solo diner entertainment for the evening.
I asked Chef Binkley about his favorite restaurants around the world. He gushed about Tokyo and said he would include his list of favorites in/around Tokyo for me. This is the front of the list...
This is the back.

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