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Binkley's or Kai?

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I will be in the Phoenix area for 4 nights next month. I will be staying at the Royal Palms, so one dinner will be at T. Cooks. We loved NOCA last time we were there, so that will be another dinner. I have heard good things about Posh and was thinking of making that a third dinner. For the 4th dinner, I was thinking of doing a "special" dinner. Should I go to Binkley's or Kai? Any other suggestions instead of the restaurants I have mentioned? Thank you.

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Binkley's
6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

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  1. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/547328 - same request + my .2 cents below.
    Also look at feastinginphoenix.com for CH blogger Seth Chadwick who has reviewed both in detail (might give you a better idea of ambiance of each).

    Have fun on your trip - T Cook's is a special romantic restaurant and Posh is really fun with great food - sit at the counter there to watch the chef's at work!

    - I didn't have a great experience at Kai, I found the food overly rich with heavy flavors and they are very generous with portion sizes so keep that in mind if you do choose Kai. I also found the service impeccable but impersonal. Kai does have very unique ingredients though with its Native American cuisine and I doubt a similar restaurant can be found anywhere.

    Binkley's is very much a "special dinner" filled with multiple amuse bouches throughout the evening, multiple courses, with high end specialty ingredients. I have been to Binkley's 3 times and find the value for what you get outstanding (especially compared to fine dining in larger cities). Last time I went we got 6 courses each, about 7 cocktails/glasses of wine between the two of us (we took a cab), and the bill came to $300, by no means cheap but for getting at least 7 amuse bouches throughout the meal, petit fours, etc. by the end we had at least 15 courses of varying sizes. I do think Binkley's can go a little over the top with the creativeness of amuse bouches but overall is a very fun experience tucked away in a strip mall location.

    I would look at the menus and see what type of cuisine appeals to you more, look at the style of service - Kai is coordinated true fine dining service with one person carrying one plate at a time, while Binkley's is still formal but slightly more relaxed. Kai is also in a hotel while Binkley's is owned by a husband/wife couple so they have much different vibes and ambiance. Dinner for 2 at Kai (with quite a few cocktails as well) ended up being about $400 although we ordered WAY too much food without being warned or realizing it.

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    Binkley's
    6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

    3 Replies
    1. re: AnonymousWaitress

      Thanks for your feedback. Do you think I should replace one of my choices with Elements?

      1. re: SuzieQ

        I've never had dinner at Elements but definitely go to their Jade Bar for a cocktail and a great view around sunset (it is one of my favorite places to get a swanky cocktail). Maybe before your dinner at Noca or Posh? Elements is directly on the other side of Camelback mountain from Royal Palms so a 15 minute drive max and would not be too far out of the way although it is not on the way to either place.

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        Noca
        3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

        1. re: SuzieQ

          SuzyQ,

          Probably too late to help, but we've dined at all three, Elements, Kai and Binkley's.

          Elements was once quite good. On the last three visits, it was anything but. Now, we did have an event there, about 9 mos. back, and it was better than all of our recent meals, so they CAN still do it - though maybe not for diner. Love venue, but the inspiration seems to have vanished.

          Kai - elegant, though intimate. Our service was at about 98%, as was the food. My wife insists that we hire a limo, and go back soon, or stay and play a few rounds of golf (might be less expensive, than the limo?), but wants to dine there again, and soon.

          Binkley's - less elegant, but with great service and some of the most creative food in The Valley of the Sun. We have dined there a half-dozen times, and have hosted several events there. Always very good to great. It's also a limo ride, or stay at the Boulders for us, and given that my wife keeps telling me to spend the $'s at Kai, I think I know where her vote is.

          Most of all, enjoy,

          Hunt

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          Binkley's
          6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

      2. Have dined at Binkley's twice and at Kai maybe six times (live 10 minutes from Kai, 50 minutes of bad roads from Binkley's, so ...).

        Binkley's tries really hard to be cutting edge, with some 'molecular gastronomy' dishes and deconstructions. Usually he does these well but seems like there's always one or two misses the times we ate there. Kevin Binkley worked at French Laundry while Grant Achatz was there and did a stage with Achatz at Alinea, which is where molecular gastronomy is done to perfection, I feel, and after eating at Alinea you can see where Binkley's gets too cute and misses the mark.

        Kai cooking is more traditional, with the use of many Native American foods and tastes the unique draw. I've had a couple of misses on the main entrees at Kai but in general the meals have been excellent and it's our favorite place to dine in the valley.

        Service at Kai is much better than at Binkley's, probably a little better than anywhere else we've dined the past year (which includes Alinea, French Laundry, Le Bernardin, Joel Robuchon, Meadowood, Penrose Room, Alex (Vegas), and Addison -- all Forbes 5* restaurants). Silverware is warmed or cooled depending on the dish, one server per plate, they always call you by name, car is brought around for you at the end of the meal without asking the valet, water and chocolate bars in the car as a parting gift, with a signed note card from your main server. I especially recall when my wife was undecided between two glasses of wine so the somm poured her an oz of each to taste so she could pick the right one.

        As for ambiance, Kai is in a nice remote resort on an Indian reservation, with views of the pool, golf course and Sierra Estrella mountain range (especially nice if you hit a great sunset). Binkley's was very noisy the times we were there, more like a bistro than a fine dining atmosphere, with the tables very close together (you could hear conversations two tables over). It's located in a small strip mall beside a bank branch and an Enterprise car rental outlet, in a space formerly taken by the Jackrabbit Cafe.

        Kai is rated 5* by Forbes/Mobil, one of 23 restaurants in the USA with five stars. Binkley's was rated 3*, I'm sure partly due to the ambiance (the food is probably 4* for the most part).

        Anyway, if you want to try "molecular gastronomy" cuisine then Binkley's is the better choice. If you want to try something unique in Native American influenced cuisine then Kai is the better choice.

        For more info with input from many diners I like checking OpenTable ... here's their link to "Best in Arizona", where both Kai and Binkley's score well ... http://www.opentable.com/best-phoenix... ... Kai is # 1 overall and for service, Binkley's is # 1 for best food (these change regularly since user reviews over 90 days are dropped from the OpenTable scores, but usually both are rated highly in several categories).

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        Binkley's
        6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

        9 Replies
        1. re: willyum

          What is the word on FnB or the Teeter House? I have been to See Saw twice in the past and enjoyed it more the first time.

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          FnB
          7133 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

          1. re: SuzieQ

            Don't know anything about FnB ... Nobuo's at Teeter House is new but got a great write-up 2 months ago by the alpha local food critic. You can sample the small plates without a reservation but it's tough to get the omakase meal since they only serve it 3-4 days a week and only have one seating with four chairs ... I tried to sign up for this recently and the first opening was late March, which I took. Same chef as at See Saw (as you know), so you have more experience with him than I do ...

            I think if you enjoy the 'small plates' dining experience like this then probably Binkley's is a good choice for you. The same critic who wrote the rave review for Nobuo showed some serious man-love for Chef Binkley in a review last March. Here are links to those over-the-top reviews:

            http://www.azcentral.com/thingstodo/d...

            http://www.azcentral.com/thingstodo/d...

            AW mentioned getting too much food at Kai ... I agree, if you order all four courses it's a LOT of food (I always do this and am always stuffed, more so than with the 23 courses at Alinea or 15 courses at French Laundry with 'small plates' for examples). I would suggest getting the first course (in winter the 'Mesquite Grilled Fall Squash Puree' is really good ... in summer I liked the peekytoe crab with watermelon, which is now crab with beets and sturgeon roe -- haven't tried that version but it's likely good too).

            Then just select an item either from the 2nd course (they call it 'The Beginning') or the main course ('The Journey') ... from the 2nd course the lobster has always been very good ... earlier they had a goat meat torta with date and quince jam that was great, replaced in the winter with a pork version, which I'd try if going tomorrow. The dish with the Iberico ham, Buffalo Tartare, Toro tuna and House Cured Gravlox is very rich and I'd only get that again to share between two people.

            From the main courses the buffalo tenderloin is their speciality and they usually do an excellent job of it, and in the spring, when the lambs are young and tender the Colorado lamb was great. Later in the fall, when the lambs have switched from mother's milk to grass, the lamb wasn't as good though. Haven't had good experiences with the seafoods at Kai (the one I tried and didn't like was shrimp and quail in a garlic nage ... a bit too much for me since I had the toro/buffalo tartare/gravlox starter).

            Have had almost all their desserts and would highly recommend the Mexican chocolate souffle. They serve the frybread and ice cream different ways, usually very good; also the maize cheesecake was very good but simpler than the other two mentioned.

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            Binkley's
            6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

            FnB
            7133 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

            1. re: willyum

              Willyum, thanks for all of your feedback. It has been very helpful. I'm actually going to be in AZ at the end of March and only from Saturday-Wednesday and since I think the omakase is Thursday-Saturday, I probably won't get in on Saturday. Unless you have that night and want to share it with me :-). I'll let you know how I make out. Thanks again.

              1. re: SuzieQ

                i would pass on noobu except for lunch, and i was disappointed with Posh when i went, loved the idea but they failed on the execution, the only dish i loved was the foie gras - they served several of us dishes we specifically requested not to get, however were very generous with their wine pouring - which saved the day :) However i probably would have been upset if it wasnt on my friends expense account ;p

                t cook is awesome - i have been to binkley's but never to kai

                binkleys was very fun with the amuse bouche, you can def hear the conversations of people next to you, which we though was funny due to some of the conversations - we had a good time there, there were a few misses but over was good fun - not something you do everyday

                noca is terrific

                kai is on the shortlist to try

            2. re: SuzieQ

              I haven't been to Nobuo yet, but here are a couple of reviews (and great pictures) from Phoenix Chowhound dmnkly:
              http://www.skilletdoux.com/2010/09/no...

              Omakase:
              http://www.skilletdoux.com/2010/11/no...

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              Nobuo at Teeter House
              622 E Adams St, Phoenix, AZ 85004

              1. re: Rubee

                Rubee, thanks for the info. Just called and tried for the Omakase on 3/26, but they were booked up. Took my name in case they got a cancellation. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

                Willyum, is that the night you have reservations for the Omakase?

                1. re: SuzieQ

                  "Willyum, is that the night you have reservations for the Omakase?"

                  Wife and I are on for the 25th ... looking forward to it! Hope you get the cancellation.

              2. re: SuzieQ

                FnB was a major let-down for us. Of all of our dishes, only one had any sort of "soul." The rest were just small plates, but then that seems to be the biggest draw. Serve anything on small plates, and the world will beat a path to your door, at leas in 2011.

                I did like the AZ wine list (well one sparkler was from NM, but let's not get picky), and that part was the highlight of the evening.

                Unfortunately, I felt that "king has no clothes."

                We will never be back.

                Have not dined at Teeter House, so cannot comment.

                Enjoy,

                Hunt

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                FnB
                7133 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

              3. re: willyum

                Very well-stated. You penned many of my thoughts.

                While I have only dined at about 70% of the mentioned restaurants, if I throw in some others of that ilk, I would rate Kai's way, way up there too.

                Thank you,

                Hunt

              4. I would certainly go back to Kai again. Truly a unique dining experience with exceptional service. Never knew I was in Sheraton!

                Edit: My original inquiry...sorry I never really made a full report!
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/500563

                2 Replies
                1. re: scoopG

                  I just got back from 4 days at the Sheraton (lovely hotel), and the conference food was typically abysmal each and every meal. However, the burger at the pool was one of the best I can remember, and I've had a lot of great burgers because I have a teenager. Regretfully, I couldn't try Kai - our vendors insisted on taking us to steak houses (bah!) and I couldn't eat dinners the other nights in order to do penance...will have to return.

                  1. re: Claudette

                    I often wonder why conference planners are so hung up on steakhouses, but they seem to be. While I have had some wonderful meals at steakhouses around the US, I often find that we're walking past some world-class restaurants to end up at a Morton's, Ruth's, or similar. Since those are usually my wife's conferences, I will kidnap her, and head to Joël Robuchon, or similar, while the rest go to a steakhouse.

                    Just sorry that you did not get to dine at Kai, since you were right there.

                    Hunt

                2. This one is a no-brainer for me. My experiences at Kai have been flawless from beginning to end. The service is extremely polished (someone said impersonal, but that has not been my experience) and the food excellent. I really can't think of a better all-around fine dining experience in the Valley.

                  Binkley's, on the other hand, was a disaster the one time we ate there. From being seated at an awful table in the bar area to Kevin Binkley's Gordan Ramsay tirade in the kitchen that the entire dining room could hear, the words "the emperor has no clothes" is what comes to mind when I think of Binkley's. The endless parade of amuse bouche gets tiring after awhile and many of the plates feel quite contrived. Service isn't polished in the least (server forgot about us for long periods) and the wine pairings are weak and anemic.

                  Your other two choices, NOCA and T. Cook's, are excellent. Since you mentioned Elements, I might replace Posh with a dinner there, but both are very good. I just enjoy taking folks from out of town to Elements because of the great view and atmosphere. As was already mentioned, you could always do drinks at Jade Bar for the view if you can't squeeze Elements in.

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                  Binkley's
                  6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Royiv

                    Thanks for your input. Based on your response, I would say we made some good choices. Since we don't have a car, we won't make it to Kai's after all. So, we have reservations at NOCA, T. Cooks, Elements and Posh. Looking forward to all of our dinners. Thank you all for your feedback.

                    1. re: SuzieQ

                      For me, Kai's requires either a towncar, or a stay at the hotel. Their wine list is just too much fun to even think about driving.

                      I hope that Elements captures some of their earlier form for you. If not, maybe the room can carry it.

                      IMHO, one cannot go wrong with T. Cook's, or NOCA.

                      Have not dined at Posh, so cannot comment.

                      Most of all, enjoy, and thank you for coming to Phoenix,

                      Hunt

                    2. re: Royiv

                      Fortunately, we have never had quite the same experience at Binkley's, though I do have to admit that on some nights, the amuse bouche offerings can get a bit old - except when they are all hits.

                      Service has always been good, but nothing to go overboard about. It has been just below a Michelin 1 star restaurant, while Kai has been at Michelin 2 star status. Big difference - from quite good to excellence, with possibilities for perfection.

                      I also feel that Binkley's would benefit from a dining room redo. It is almost as though the restaurant is caught between wanting to be 2 star, and a friendly neighborhood spot with great food.

                      Hunt

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                      Binkley's
                      6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

                    3. Staying at Wild Pass for 5 nights in May...hosting a party for friends at Kai's bar for happy hour...
                      How is their happy hour and drinks at the gorgeous bar?
                      Will HH be enough?
                      Thanks!