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Binkley's vs. Kai

  • c

I haven't had the opportunity to visit either yet, but will be making reservations at one or the other for a future dinner. As it might be a little while before there's an occasion to spend quite that much on a dinner, I'm curious if there a consensus as to if one rises above the other when compared directly. So, which would you choose?

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  1. I went by Binkley's last Friday night and was intrigued at the menu, would really like to try it. However, my husband took me to Kai a couple Fridays ago and I'd have to say if its a special occasion - this would be your spot. Much more memorable with the location. He surprised me and got a room, summer rates - and we'll never forget it. I know the entire night cost us around $850 - room, dinner, a couple cocktails after - and breakfast in the morning.

    I had a tasting w/wine, he ordered a few things a la carte with cocktails. The bill was about $450 with tip - and was a culinary expedition!

    More than Binkley's - but if its a VERY special occasion - the whole package at Kai made it very well worthwhile. The next time he screws up I'm going to make him take me to Binkley's though. :-)

    1 Reply
    1. re: Maggie Kramer

      Haven't tried Kai but Binkley's is by far the top restaurant in Phoenix. Excellent all around.

    2. That's a really difficult choice. I loved both of them. I guess I would suggest you think about what you want out of your dining experience. If you are looking for a stellar tasting menu, Binkley's will certainly satisfy. If you are looking for a unique experience (high-end Native American cuisine) with a fantastic atmosphere, then I would encourage you to go with Kai.

      I will say, however, that I have a personal bias toward Kai. We had one of the best experiences of our lives there (try to get a table on the balcony overlooking the desert landscape) and would go back in a heartbeat.

      6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

      5594 W. Wildhorse Pass Blvd, Chandler, AZ 85226

      1. Tough choice. Really. You won't be disappointed by either if that's a bit of consolation.

        I agree with Seth Chadwick that the choice comes down to what you want from your experience. the food at both is superb but we've found the experience to be very different.

        We dine at Kai more often but we also live on that side of the Valley. Certainly if we weren't so far away we'd have visited Binkley's more than the one time we've made it there so far. So that plays into our decision.

        When we went ot Binkley's we went as a group of six. We felt this was a great way to experience the restaurant and the menu. We all enjoyed trying several different things off the menu, seeing the presentations, discussing the wine pairings.

        Kai we've always dined at alone. I find it a much more romantic setting and we usually find ourselves there for personal special occasions. The food is top notch and while maybe not as cutting edge as what Kevin Binkley is doing it is interesting exploring what Jack Strong does with indigineous ingredients. It's very relaxing dining at Kai. Settle in and enjoy everything about the experience.

        For us, our preference also probably lies at Kai but I suspect as this thread grows there will be more than a few for whom the preference lies with Binkleys.

        Like I said, either way you won't be disappointed. It's a win win choice. You'll just have to try both! :-)

        1 Reply
        1. re: ziggylu

          Definitely right on the money regarding Kai being more romantic. I think a large party there would not get the relaxing sense of the atmosphere with the Native American flute music, the dim lighting and the quite, polished services.

        2. I too would side with Kai. The experience is tough to beat here in AZ, between the Native American cusine, the setting and additional touches that they throw in you are going to have a guaranteed amazing meal. Binkley's is an amazing meal as well. I have been 3 times 2 of those times I was blown away the one time I wasn't will make me hesitant to go back. It can be bitterly disappointing to spend that kind of money and feel disappointed. To me that is simply due to the number of courses and different things that Kevin Binkley tries up there. I feel much the same way about Quiessence when on it is tough to beat when off one can be left with a very bad and in many cases false impression. Hope this helps

          1. Put me down for a vote for Kai. I thought the overall experience was superior to Binkley's.

            Kai had the best service I have ever experienced. The food was special, and the restaurant is beautiful.

            Binkley's seemed a little more laid back to me (which might be a positive for some people). However, if I am going to be spending that amount of money, I expect a more polished service experience.

            Both are good, but Kai is truly special, and will be an experience you wouldn't soon forget.

            1. Had dinner last week at Binkley's for my birthday and they continue to produce meals that are on par with French Laundry and Trotter for about half the cost. My wife and I are waiting for a special occasion (anniversary, etc) to go to Kai. It seems from what I've read here on the chow that Kai is more of a special occasion restaurant whereas Binkley's is a place that you could potentially eat on any occasion and have some of the best food in the country.

              1. I'm all about food. Good food, inventive food. Food, food, food.... Give me great food and mean nasty waitstaff & a dingy hut & I'm happy. With that being said, we prefer Binkley's. While the service is always perfect for us - great and fun & friendly - and the room is very comfortable, I just think Binkley's has more variety (with all the amuses) of incredible dishes than Kai. We've also had wonderful times at Kai. Had fabulous food and incredible service (more formal and proper of course but still wonderful) but we just don't get quite as much of the leave you in awe effect there from the food itself that we do at Binkley's. If atmosphere & such is really important to you, ignore me. : ) Though I would never say anything negative about the atmosphere at Binkley's. It's just a bit more casual and relaxed - which we like.

                1. Interesting, thanks for all the feedback so far...keep it coming.

                  I guess, ccl1111, I'm coming from a similar school of thought. With ambiance stripped away, and looking at the food alone, which pack a bigger punch? For me, the food itself really outweighs everything else (I don't particularly care much about carefully choreographed service...just a friendly, infromative, attentive server, be it casual or formal).

                  With that said, however, it's nearly impossible to actually strip away all but the food. Great atmosphere and service absolutely elevates the experience. It sounds like the thought might be that Binkley's has slightly better food, but the ambiance and service at Kai more than makes up for the difference?

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: crsin

                    Hmmm. I would say that the difference in food between the two is razor thin. Certainly you are going to get more tastes from Binkley's because of the tasting menu. However, Kai's dishes were outstanding and the focus on local produce and items from other Native American regions was something you aren't going to find just anywhere.

                    The setting and service clearly goes to Kai.

                    1. re: Seth Chadwick

                      I completely respect Seth's opinion but for me & the wife, while we've definitely had great, great food at Kai, we really enjoyed the food more at Binkley's. I could probably think of 10 or 12 dishes at Binkley's that we could still obsess about and maybe one or two at Kai. Again this is just my opinion. We have been to Binkley's more than Kai though & will probably continue to head up there more often. It just works for us.

                      You can't go wrong with either though. Also there is the danger of going anywhere with your expectations too inflated & out of whack (I usually am let down on an 2nd visit anywhere fabulous).

                      1. re: ccl1111

                        I would say for a true foodie, Binkley's is better. Every course is a suprise. Kevin Binkley has that chef's "sense of humor" with the food that can make you giggle or gasp in delight as each plate or amuse arrives.
                        HOWEVER ... last time I was there I seriously wanted to throttle the laissez-faire waiter. I don't mind casual service, but this guy was devil-may-care. I thought I was back in Europe, where they don't work on tips. For the price, I expect much better than that. Hopefully they've gotten rid of the guy by now.
                        Kai is always perfect when it comes to service, and the food is outstanding, but to me, it doesn't have that cutting-edge quality to it. I've never had the tasting menu there, though -- other thoughts?

                        1. re: 1wino

                          This is a very astute post. When we went to Binkley's, we enjoyed the food quite a bit, but the service was lacking.

                          For the money we spent, I expect a everything to be perfect. The service quality seriously diminished our experience.

                          However, I think it is time we head back to Binkley's, as the raves make me think that we are missing something. Maybe we will head there for our next special occassion, and give the another chance.

                          BTW, everything at Kai was in fact perfect. From the moment we stepped into the restaurant, we were pampered, and made to feel special. It did meet our high expectations for that kind of expensive meal.

                          1. re: Booger

                            I think this just really points to how they are very different restaurants. Both are really great but just really different.

                            We loved our meal at Binkley's. I really want to get back there and hope to in the next few months. But for us it's the kind of place where we would prefer to go with some other folks that also would appreciate what the chef was doing with the food. We have some friends that we love trying new places with or new experiences and this is a perfect place for a group like that I think(same group has been with us to Binkley, Quiessence, the Locavore dinner, several Lunch and Learns up at the Sanctuary...you get the idea). It's not somewhere we'd want to venture on our own most likely and not somewhere we'd choose for a romantic evening. But everyone has different opinions on that. In our case, where our evening was focused on our friends and our discussions of what was being presented to us the service really faded into the background and we didn't care it wasn't perfect(it wasn't but it wasn't terrible in any way either). Plus with a group the volume in the dining room didn't bother us at all(and maybe this was just the night we were there but it did seem much louder than we expected for a restaurant of this caliber. We were seated in the middle of the room though and that might have factored in).

                            Again for the OP it really depends on what they are looking for in this meal. Is it a special personal occasion? Are you looking for a romantic evening? Want to feel pampered? All while enjoying really top notch food with a unique perspective not really found anywhere else? Kai is your best bet. If you want to explore a menu by a chef doing something that for this town is very cutting edge, be in a more casual atmosphere, find some whimsy in your meal....Binkley's is your best bet. I personally recommend taking some friends with you if that's the case but YMMV on that one.

                            Like I said in my other post here, really it's a win win choice. Either way have a great meal...and do try to get to the other choice at some point.

                          2. re: 1wino

                            i would have to disagree iwth a couple of your points here. first - i think its kind of dismissive to indicate that a 'true' foodie would prefer binkley's. i seriously doubt there's a consensus on what makes a 'foodie', let alone a 'true foodie'.

                            perhaps, one could argue, a true foodie would like kai more because of their attention to detail with respect to the sourcing of their food.

                            lastly tho - i'm unsure about why you would say that kai's lacks a cutting edge quality. i've never read about any of their chefs' - janos to sandy garcia to the new chefs talk about being cutting edge. i'm not sure its fair or reasonable to hold them to 'cutting edge' when that's not what they aspire to be.

                            i think even comparing tasting menu's might not be a fair comparision per se, either. both restaurants aspire to be separate things, and i would think their menu's reflect that.

                            1. re: winedubar

                              Good point about the divergent missions.

                              I've had food from Kai, but not AT Kai, and I've never eaten any Binkley's food or set foot in the restaurant. But even so, based solely on the posts I've read here, the comparison struck me as being one of apples vs. pears (not quite oranges, though)--no offense intended, crsin.

                              Sure they're both high-end restaurants where special skill and attention are brought to bear on the preparation and presentation of the food, but for me that is more or less where the overlap ends.

                              This discussion reminds me of an (abortive) conversation in which a friend asked me, "So, which is the best restaurant in San Francisco?" to which I responded "I guess that depends on what you want." The point being I have a hard time quantitatively ranking restaurants that are doing qualitatively different things. I'd much rather address questions about differences in cuisine, service, and atmosphere and then let the questioner make up his or her mind based on those distinctions.