As I chatted with Chef Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant earlier in the week, I shared the restaurants I had lined up. He looked me earnestly and said "You need to go to Christopher's." I had seen that restaurant in my research but the website was so quirky, I decided to skip them. But with Chef's strong recommendation, I went. They were sold out, but an email (and perhaps a little name drop...) got me a table. And boy am I glad I went.
The Mansion. The Wrigley Mansion is a crown jewel wedding/event location that sits high atop its own hill, with 360 degree views of the city. As we turned the corner towards it, my friend gasped and said "Look at THAT!!!" I said "I'm pretty sure that's where we are going." The Rolls Royce convertible that sat at the base of the stairs definitely set the stage.
Chef Christopher is a wild-haired, quirky artist type who ran his own restaurant downtown for 20 years. He came in to breathe new life into the mansion as an event venue, investing 3 years of design and construction before a meal was served. Does this setup wow you. I took photos that I knew would not do justice to the views and ambience of this elegant, black open-air masterpiece. With the open kitchen behind you an the entire vista of the glimmering lights of Phoenix in front of you, it takes a number of gasps before you can sit down.
The Food. This meal was pretty much flawless. Each dish so incredibly well conceived, delivered and mind-blowingly delicious. It demonstrates a chef that enjoys an immense depth of experience and confidence. Every plate screams "I know it's awesome. Here you go." And it IS. From the plating to the cookery to the flavors - all of it.
What I loved most is the arc of his meal. I noticed it in the menu. Most meals put the big proteins (wagyu, lamb...) towards the end of the meal, as the denouement. Often, you're pretty full at this point, so it can lose a bit of flair because you're thinking "How can I eat all of this?" Christopher's gives you a few small bites and dives right into the good stuff. It allows you to fully embrace these main dishes without encumbrance. What a terrific change.
The Servers. Every server is actually a chef. Those under Christopher's tutelage rotate from the line to service, so they get a better understanding of front of house operations, training them for when/if they open their own restaurants. There is another enormous advantage that he explained to me later on.
"Chefs make $22/hr typically - they're burning their hands, cutting their fingers - and they hear a server say 'I just received a $400 tip!' It's not right. So here, our chefs make far more than most do, because the tips are given 100% to all of them. Even the dishwashers and hostess - they all make far more here than average. Our dishwasher came to me when she received her first check and insisted there was a mistake - it was too large. I was delighted to tell her that it was accurate."
This is just a brilliant move. It provides stability for the restaurant (they have not experienced any pandemic staffing issues) and essential experience for the young chefs. Sure - the service wasn't quite what it could be. But every chef/server we spoke with was a delight - and you could see the value that was happening through this experience for them.
The Hospitality. The hospitality of the overall venue was jaw-dropping. Two stories to illustrate the point. My friend was waiting for a flight so she sat with me for about 1/2 the meal. She is vegan and didn't participate - just had a glass of wine and kept me company. Chef Christopher brought her a crepe (the caviar/gold-leaf crepe) as a gift. "We made an extra one", he said with a wink and a smile. We thanked him profusely but informed him that she was vegan and would not be able to enjoy the dish. He replied "Oh...then please, may I bring you a salad?" Which he did. Covered in white truffles. No charge. No anything. They just wanted to be sure she was included and taken care of.
She also had baggage in my car - and we parked on the complete wrong side of the mansion. I told the hostess we may need a break to walk back to the car and get her bags when her rideshare came. "Of course. Why don't I have the valet take you down on a golf cart to make it easier? Just let me know when it's good for you." We did - and we were whisked down to the car to grab the bags and then back up to the restaurant by a friendly and generous valet. It just doesn't get any better than this.
Chef Christopher stopped by each table regularly. He chatted with me extensively and asked if I would like to see the wine cellar. "Um... yes!!" At the end of the meal, he came to get me, walked me through the kitchen announcing "We have an important guest! No swearing!" Then to the wine cellar and even other part of the Mansion, sharing stories of his construction efforts, history and vision. A maitre'd kept running him down insisting that people "were waiting for him". Despite me telling him it was fine if he needed to go, he waved the maitre`d off a few times in order to keep speaking with me.
Bottom Line. Chef Binkley was right. This is 5-star service, 5-star food, 5-star views and an experience absolutely not to be missed. Don't be fooled by the quirky website - I certainly was. If you're in Phoenix, this is the place to be.
Replying to Steven Smith