Today Kirk is really busy. Cathy is busy. But Ed (from Yuma) recently got back from a weekend in Phoenix where he ate food.
Tina and I were in Phoenix to look at stuff in art museums, go shopping, and eat some interesting food. On Friday night, we got a reservation for Bink's Midtown, the newest restaurant of Kevin and Amy Binkley, who have gained a reputation for innovative culinary approaches.
It took us a couple of minutes to find the location which is in a converted old house and is not located at a street corner nor in a strip mall. At night, this sign should help you find the restaurant:
In addition to a large patio area, whose 8 – 10 tables were fully occupied when we arrived at 6:45, the restaurant offered 2 or 3 sizable rooms decorated with vegetable/plant paintings along the white walls and white butcher paper atop white linen on the tables. While the focus was clearly on the food, not the decor, the rooms were cheerful, tasteful, and utilitarian although a bit noisy when all of the tables were occupied.
The wine list was a single page divided into whites and reds. While a modest list by fancy restaurant standards, many choices in both categories would have satisfied us. Some wines were also available by glass and by carafe.
After talking with the helpful server, Tina and I decided on one item from each produce section as well as an appetizer and a main course, all of which we would share. We would start with a carafe of white wine, but we wanted a Pinot Noir from Oregon (Purple Hands) to accompany the duck. Our white wine choice, an anonymous riesling from Alsace, was the first thing to show up at our table:
It was a good match for most of our dinner as the wine opened with fruity and flowery notes, but had a smooth dry finish, making it very versatile.
We were delighted. The thinly sliced cool yellow beets were accompanied by salted hazelnuts, blueberries, chunks of feta goat cheese, and a few baby greens. The dressing was a mild olive oil and berry vinaigrette. Two major interplays dominated the dish. There was a sweet salty balance, the berries and beets playing off against the cheese and nuts. Similarly there was an interesting textural variation with the crunchy hazelnuts at one polarity and soft berries and creamy feta cheese at the other. Wow! An outstanding beginning.
We were about halfway through the beets when the arugula and fig salad landed on the table. About a minute later, the duck breast flew in from the kitchen. A cast-iron bucket of mussels found a spot near the middle of the little two-top, and a cast-iron serving tray filled with the slices of summer squash gratin plopped down on the one small part of the table not already occupied by food, utensils, and wine.
The chaos seemed overwhelming at that moment. Where to start? How to eat all of these things at once? I was on the verge of a foodie meltdown when Tina decided we should do some prioritizing. The cold salad could wait for later. No point in attacking the duck without the Pinot Noir to go along with it, and there was no point in requesting that wine since there was no place for it anywhere on the small table anyway.
So we concentrated on drinking the pleasant riesling, finishing the wonderful beets, and savoring the mussels and the squash while they were hot and fresh from the oven. The perfectly prepared mussels were bathed in a light creamy curry sauce with pronounced lemongrass flavors:
Although that picture doesn't show much – black mussels at the bottom of a black cast-iron bucket are not the most photogenic food items – the mussels were outstandingly tender and fresh. The accompanying bread was slightly sweet and had an interesting texture: firm, but not chewy or crunchy. I wished I had more of it to soak up the flavorful broth.
The slices were perfectly cooked, not soft and not raw. Overall, the dish emphasized their flavor, and the Parmesan stayed in the background. If this had been served as a side dish in a steakhouse, I probably wouldn't have paid much attention to it, and that would've been a shame, because it was splendid. So good that I had to remind Tina to eat some of it before I gobbled it all up.
At this point, we got the attention of a waitperson who cleared some table and brought over the carafe of Oregon Pinot Noir (and appropriate stemware) (sorry, no picture). Now Tina and I could turn our attention to the remaining 2 items.
The arugula itself was mounded on top of strands of spaghetti squash, covered with shredded pecorino Romano, and dotted with halves of black mission figs, chunks of dried apricot, and pieces of pecan. The menu says there was a horseradish/honey dressing, but I didn't notice it. To me, the emphasis in the salad was on the ingredients, and each bite was a little different than the one before. As with the beet appetizer, sweet/salty tastes and a range of textures predominated.
We had requested the duck to be medium rare and were both pleased that it had not been overcooked. The crunchy skin accented the smooth rich flavor of the waterfowl. The seasoning was perfect for my palate; first the savor of duck breast filled my mouth, and then the notes of Chinese 5 spice contributed to a long and complex finish. The Purple Hands Pinot Noir was a perfect match, having enough earthy body to stand up to the duck.
Although the simultaneous arrival of most of the dinner was a bit disconcerting, and the noise made it sometimes hard to converse, Tina and I really enjoyed our night at Bink’s. The food preparations were all tasty and most of them were very imaginative as well. We also appreciated the emphasis on local and seasonal produce. Considering the quality of ingredients and the skill of preparation, the price of our dinner for 2 seemed like a good value for a special meal:
Next time, we will order a fewer dishes at a time and take more control of the organization of the meal. The originality of the preparations and quality of the food really deserve a more leisurely pace, and each plate is worthy of a diner's attention and focus.
Bink’s Midtown, 2320 E Osborn Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016; (602) 388-4874; Open 11Am (10 on Sunday), closed 10 pm (11 Fri & Sat).