Dining "in the dark" makes for a sensory explosion and some laughs, too.
Couples from coast to coast are celebrating romance this Valentine’s Day season not with chocolate or store-bought cards, but with blindfolds. Before you start thinking this sounds too kinky, let me clarify: the latest romantic restaurant phenomenon is one where patrons eat in complete darkness.
The concept? Eliminate sight with a blindfold or a blackened room to heighten the four remaining senses. The (unexpected) creator? A blind Swiss minister who, in the late 1990s, served blindfolds to dinner guests to replicate his own sightless world.
Dark restaurants spread throughout Europe, including Blindekuh (meaning "Blind Cow"), the minister's own eatery in Zurich, which is staffed with legally blind servers clearly accustomed to working without sight. And the trend is catching on on both U.S. coasts, with operations currently running in New York and Los Angeles.
Dana Salisbury, who runs Dark Dining Projects in Manhattan, says her "dark dining" evenings, which include a four-course meal, wine pairings and "artist performances" appeal to a sophisticated, thrill-seeking crowd. Similar to the novel appeal of eating fondue, couples are invigorated when finding new ways to share a meal, and, according to Salisbury, communicate.
"[Patrons] often have rich, intimate conversations with each other. Because they're not looking at each other, couples are able to have conversations that they’ve been needing to have and may have otherwise avoided," she says.
Forty-two-year-old cinematographer, Steven Heuer, recently attended a dark dining evening in L.A. with a woman he was dating. They were mum on whether they'd discussed taboo topics, but the evening, run by Opaque, which hosts weekend dinners at the Hyatt in West Hollywood, was a hit. His date reported that it was the best dinner she'd ever had.
"It's completely awesome for a date," Heuer reports, "Maybe not for the first date, but for the second or beyond. You're tempted to be a bit risqué." So what's the sex appeal of eating blind? Heuer was amazed at the heightened sense of hearing and taste. But, dieters be warned: you're also more likely to clear your plate.
"This is the best thing for people trying to get kids to eat their vegetables," Heuer jokes. "Normally I'm a picky eater and would have left some vegetables to the side." The irony is, if you dine in the dark, people are less likely to notice.
Without being able to judge a book, er, a vegetable by its cover, diners are left to grope blindly what's on their plates and the table around them. Heuer laughed at himself when he reached around an invisible centerpiece for his date's hands—only to realize the obstacle wasn't even there. Likewise, New Yorker Erin Peschiera, 28, who had a "blind" date with her husband at Greenwich Village bistro Camaje, found that working without hand-eye coordination proved difficult when getting food from plate to mouth.
"My favorite part was the feeling of being sight-deprived. Seeing can be very distracting, so I was very focused on my other senses and the company of my friends, the food, and the wine."
Salisbury's events, which she hosts for the public at Camaje and privately throughout the Northeast and Florida, also incorporate musicians, vocalists and even tap dancers to feed the audible appetite. Employees occasionally will even rub patrons' shoulders to enhance the evening.
"At one point I felt someone rubbing my back and I thought it was my husband," Peschiera says. "It was one of the Dark Dining people, which came as a big surprise—when I went to hold his hand, it was a woman's!" Whether dark dining has yet to arrive in your area or you’d rather limit blindfold use to the comfort of your own home, the concept is easy to replicate as long as you have at least one watchful eye around and a sense of adventure.