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A Delicious Evening Dining in Darkness

Culture

John Del Signore | Alix Piorun | December 19, 2017
Dinners in the Dark offers curious consumers a chance to heighten their sense of taste by relinquishing their vision.

If you’re like me, most meals come with a side of multitasking. Eating alone, I’m always reading a magazine or compulsively swiping through Twitter or Instagram as I shovel food in the general direction of my mouth. At home with my wife, we often pair dinner with late-night television shows, and if we’re dining out with friends, the conversation typically upstages the food, with cell phones always threatening to drag us away from the present moment. Sure, I want to mindfully focus on each bite, savoring the (hopefully) harmonious interplay of flavors and textures, chewing the recommended 30 times before swallowing, but when does this really happen? What would it take to get me to devote my undivided attention to the simple act of fully enjoying a meal someone strapping a blindfold to my head?

Sure, worth a shot.

Thirteen years ago, Dinners in the Dark began whittling diners’ senses down from five to four, depriving them of their sight to enhance their taste buds. Here’s how it works: You show up at the appointed hour, and an attentive maître d’ hands you a comfortable, adjustable blindfold that proves so impenetrable you can keep your eyes open and see nothing but an infinite dark abyss. Twitter is nowhere to be found (I checked).

Once you’re blindfolded, you’re escorted to your table, carefully guided but filled with a sense of playful disorientation. There is no music at first, only the sound of chirping birds and the general chatter of your disembodied companions. I was seated alone during my recent visit and entertained myself by eavesdropping, overhearing such gems as, “For our one-year anniversary, we’re renting out a movie theater and inviting everyone who came to our wedding to watch our wedding video.” #JEALOUS

Once everyone is seated, the triumphant pop of a champagne cork pierces the chitchat like a starting bell, and soon a mysterious amuse-bouche arrives. None of the food or beverages are identified beyond their consistency typical instructions from the staff consist of “Touch it, smell it, but don’t taste it yet,” or, “I am pouring a bubbly liquid into your glass.”

The chef quiets the room and asks for everyone’s silence for the purposes of a “sound snapshot,” which involves half the room (the men) listening as the ladies take their first bite of that crispy amuse-bouche. There’s a general titter of delight as we discover something inexplicably gratifying about the sound of a dozen or more people explosively crunching in unison, and once the men have their turn, the collective mood is downright giddy. Conversations pinball around the room and expand beyond the traditional borders of tables and friends, with the voices of strangers coming together in a spirit of blind conviviality.

Before the first course, the chef reads a Pablo Neruda poem (“Ode to the Onion”), holding the room in rapt attention. The poetry fills the darkness and further settles my mind, so when a bowl of soup arrives, I can already feel my senses of taste and smell becoming more finely tuned. It’s a delicious soup, autumn in a bowl, and I won’t say more about it lest I spoil the fun of guessing what you’re eating. The menu is only revealed at the end, so until then you’re flying blind, savoring and contemplating what you’re eating without any preconceived notions. But I was happy to find that the food, full of fresh ingredients sourced from local farmer’s markets, more than stood up to the enhanced sensory scrutiny. This is a very good meal — and I swear that’s not just the blindfold talking.

Between courses (there are three), as the wine flows, the voices in the room spontaneously and repeatedly coalesce into an ebullient sing-along with the restaurant’s playlist, giving fans of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” the opportunity to belt out the “good times” chorus along with all of their invisible dining companions. I did not expect the simple loss of sight to bring people together in such high spirits, but it really did.

Toward the end of the experience, as a counterpoint to the boisterous revelry, there is a refreshing, four-minute silent meditation, enhanced by bells and other tactile surprises. This pause creates a pleasant oasis of serenity amid the evening’s general exuberance, and when it ends with someone brushing my cheek with a feather a man seated behind me quietly quips, “Wow… everyone should shut up more often.” Amen.


To discover more distinctive culture, try Heritage | Fernet-Branca


 

John Del Signore ’s writing has appeared in Deadspin, The Awl, Gothamist, and The Nervous Breakdown. He served as editor-in-chief of Gothamist until November 2nd, when the website was vaporized without warning by its new owner.

Alix Piorun is a concert, event, and travel photographer living in Brooklyn who enjoys all the wacky, weird, and wonderful things NYC has to offer. When not shooting around the city, she is playing dodgeball or bass, riding her bike or moped, or sitting looking at Instagram. Find her at alixpiorun.com.

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