We've been talking with friends for months now about making the trek up north to try out Binkley's. One of the friend's birthday finally gave us the push to make the reservations and last night with four other friends we headed up there.
The drive from Chandler on a Friday night wasn't nearly as bad as we anticipated(where was all the traffic last night?) and we actually arrived almost half an hour early. It was a beautiful evening so we were happy to sit outside on the benches and enjoy a glass of prosecco first.
We were sat at round table in the center of the main room. Opening the menu we found a nice touch of "Happy Birthday" personalized on the menus for our party's birthday boy.
We all agreed to do the five course tasting with choice of meat or fish and both the cheese and dessert options. We all thought the wine pairing might be too much with all the food...discussing it with the server she recommended to let her pour some choices for each course across five glasses(driver wasn't drinking wine) and see how we progressed. Not really sure how this differed from the pairing as by the end of the evening we each had five glasses in front of us and in almost all cases didn't finish any of them so we could make it through. Economically it came out about the same as if we had all ordered the pairing anyhow(which maybe we did? sure seemed like it)
Anyway, ordering taken care of the amuses start arriving. The first a sweet potato soup with a maple syrup/black pepper creme fraiche. Very nice! Next was a half of fingerling potato with truffle cream on top. The truffle flavor was a nice combination with the perfectly roasted potato...and the sea salt on the potato really brought the flavors together. The next was a fig with pear caviar, port reduction and curry dust. Across the table this was our least favorite. The pear caviar was more texture than flavor. Somehow it just didn't work as well as the other items.
Cold appetizers arrived. I had heirloom tomato tart. I have to admit i was suprised by the size - this was actually a pretty big portion for a tasting menu! The tart was probably at least three inches across. Flaky crust, tomatoes, carmelized onions,fried basil, blue cheese croutons. Nice. The most intriguing part were the tiny balsamic/gelatin cubes that added intense burst of flavors. Didn't finish it as we were just gettign started and wanted to be sure to make it through to the end.
Husband chose the figs and serrano ham. Slices of fresh fig,serrano ham and "ham consomme". He loves melon and ham and enjoyed his a great deal. Someone else had the smoked scullpin...and we all enjoyed the smoked aroma when the cloche was lifted at the table.
Next came a clear gazpacho with cucumber, red bell pepper, and tomato caviar and a chili oil. The flavors were nice. We enjoyed the caviar in this dish much more. the glass was hot but the soup cool....odd. Even odder at other tables this was served atop a flashing red or blue light(we didn't receive this treatment for some reason...not sure we missed much!)
Hot appetizers next. I had the corn chowder. A bowl with a mound of something creamy and a half strip of bacon arrived. Then liquid was poured in. The liquid was sublime corn chowder which combined well with the creme fraiche, bacon, and green onion in the bowl. Again, what I found this to be a very generous portion of a rich dish for a tasting menu so I forced myself to leave half. Delicious nonetheless.
Husband had the cornbread stuffed quail and enjoyed it. Perfectly cooked. One friend had the ribeye appetizer which he said was delicious(didn't taste this one).
Sorbets were presented - kiwi for the ladies, grape for the men. We all preferred the kiwi to the grape.
For mains, most of the table ordered fish. Myself and two others had the Loup de Mer. Again, perfectly cooked, with the skin on and lightly salted. Flaky, delicate and delicious. THe sides included a roasted fingerling, poached fennel, oranges, olives and pistachios. being a big fan of fennel and oranges this was one reason I chose this...and it didn't fail to deliver. The flavors all combined wonderfully. Another member of the party ordered the halibut poached in olive oil. She enjoyed it but did comment it really wasn't anything special. Husband had the Silver Snapper which he enjoyed. One of the accompanients with his was coconut quinoa which across the table was a big hit. We nearly asked for more of this as we all loved it. Only one person order meat - the filet with a potato ravioli and blue cheese. A perfect steak!
and also a big hit
Next the cheese course. None of use could decide on cheese so we let the chef choose for us...we were presented with a large plate with at least 20 different small pieces of cheese on it. Along with it came another platter with crostini, candied walnuts, fresh grapes, and fruit bread. By now, we're filling up and all senses are overwhelmed...but we soldiered on. The cheeses were wonderful. We tried to remember all of them(the server amazingly named each one without a single hesitation). We enjoyed the always wonderful Maytag blue, Pt Reyes, Humboldt Fog. Wonderful Parmiggiano, Pecorino, an aged gruyere. A goat cheese feta was quite nice. I didn't try the stilton but it got good comments. A yummy triple creme brie. Could ahve just settled in with the cheese for the evening and been in heaven!
After cheese came an apple soda with a bit of vanilla ice cream in it. This was the biggest hit of the evening. Just delicious and refreshing and a wonderful finish after the cheese.
But next came dessert. Probably our least favorite course...though by now we were quite full, and despite the fact no one finished any of the wine offerings(again, trying to make it through not for lack of quality...all were qutie nice and well-paired) so this could be why we didn't enjoy dessert as much. I went with the peaches - poached, served with honey ice cream and aged balsamic drizzled over. Nice, especially the honey ice cream. Didn't get through most of it though. Other people had the mint offering...the mint chocolaet chip ice cream was a big hit. Husband had the chocolate offering and loved the flash frozen mousse. The raspberry was a fun offering with versions of pop rocks and dipping dots that offered all kinds of texture and flavor explosions.
Finally the sweet plate came with the check. Chocolate truffles, gingerbread snaps, and black currant pate de fruit. I only tried the black current pate de fruit and enjoyed the tart flavors. The others said the other options were quite good as well adn the favorite differed around the table.
Service throughout the evening was quite good. A few misfires- one fish dish brought several minutes after the others as the chef held it back to replate apparently. Same with a dessert. We were a larged table int he middle of the room and with the simultaneous presentations of the courses around the table, it made it difficult for the servers to manouver into place as they came from the kitchen...but this was more of an eye distraction than a service issue. Everyone was professional, knowledgable and no hint of pretension.
We were shocked to look at a watch and discover it was 11:30....we had started with a 7pm reservation. With the aperitif outside before we'd been there for five hours - that passed quickly and most enjoyably. The pace was just right given the amount of courses presented. Wonderful company, wonderful food, comfortable atmosphere.
We enjoyed our evening a great deal. The check was right at $600 for the six of us.
Now, after last evening, and the previous week in Santa Fe we will definitely be enjoying some much lighter eating in the days ahead!