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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Dining in the Dark

They say don’t knock it until you try it, but there’s a food fad that I won’t be participating in. Apparently there are some restaurants that are offering “dinner in the dark,” where customers eat their meals either blindfolded or in a pitch-black room.

They claim that not being able to see your food enhances the whole savory experience. This isn’t a blind taste test we’re talking about. It’s the whole meal. Although in the grand scheme of things, this sounds like a really stupid idea, I can’t think of a smarter place to take a blind date who turns out to be ugly.

Being a city known for its rich and stupid, Miami has at least one restaurant that offers this, and here is an explanation from their web site:

“A cavernous candlelit retreat, Catharsis lives up to its name, and the juxtaposition against the locale stimulates the senses immediately upon arrival, as all tension vanishes away. Arched white washed walls are adorned with warm, glowing wall sconces and soft dropped lights, while white tablecloths are sparkled with wild orchids.”

What a crock of shit. Are you having a meal or getting a massage by Yanni? Who writes the copy for their web site? A junior high creative writing class? I don’t think my tension is going to vanish. Quite the opposite, in fact.  I don’t know the owners of this restaurant, so I’m not going to trust them right off the bat. How do I know that they are indeed going to serve me the osso buco, and not some delicacy fished out of the cat box? Who are these restaurants kidding? This is just how they get rid of their spoiled food and stale leftovers and save on their electric bill. I also hear that after the waiter takes your order and puts on the blindfold, they force you to play pin the tail on the donkey until your meal is cooked.

I wonder: Does Catharsis offer carryout? Okay, I’ll sell you this food, but no peeking!

I have questions. If you’re blindfolded and order a nice steak, how are you supposed to cut your meat? Or do you just pick up the whole T-bone and eat it with your hands? Hopefully the rest of your party is also blindfolded, so they don’t have to witness the beef blood running down under your collar. Also, if you’re the kind of person who can’t stand it if your peas touch your mashed potatoes, this is not the place for you. Take your divided Melmac plate elsewhere.

Knowing the people with whom I routinely dine out, I would be in the middle of some delightful blindfolded dinnertime repartee, chatting away, only to find out that the rest of my party has quietly left the restaurant and stuck me with the bill.

Part of the fun of eating, I think, is enjoying the visual presentation of the food. If a chef doesn’t have to worry about what the food looks like, then he should be preparing okra puree for Gerber.

The web site tries, a little overzealously, to entice you to try the blind dining event: “Imagine the possibilities…the challenges…the excitement of tasting food you cannot see…not to mention…a very sexy experience.” The junior high creative writing teacher needs to teach her kids about ellipsis abuse (dot, dot, dot.)

If Helen Keller were alive today, I bet she wouldn’t be able to recall a single meal that was “sexy.” And probably not any sex act that was sexy. On the other hand, I can easily “imagine the possibility” of ending up with a few spoonfuls of ceviche in my lap and a spilled glassful of red wine on my new white shirt. And I can also picture the excitement of trying to remove black beans from my nostrils because I missed my mouth. I’m also pretty sure I would decline hot beverages with dessert, thereby saving me an embarrassing trip to the ER.

The restaurant is trying to get you to believe that blind people’s sense of hearing, touch, and taste are more vivid than their non-blind counterparts. Maybe that’s true, but it takes a long time for those senses to be honed. You don’t just walk into a strange restaurant, put on a blindfold, and expect to become super-aware. The website reads:  “Since your sense of sight is hampered, all of your other senses are on high alert.” So why not pinch off my other senses to make the food taste even better? Put a clothespin on my nose, tie my gloved hands behind my back and smear a strong topical anesthetic all over my body. I’m sure that would make a slice of Wonder bread taste like scallops provencal.

If restaurants really want to make a killing in the sensory deprivation market, they’d offer customers ear plugs instead of blindfolds. That way you wouldn’t have to hear the intimate details of your next-table-neighbor’s recent colonoscopy or the delightful, high-decibel squeals of her 2-year-old twin grandkids.

One positive thing that blind eating could do for you is to get you to try things you ordinarily wouldn’t touch. If you’re a finicky eater, you could go to a buffet where they blindfold you at the start of the line. They give you a big serving spoon and no plate. You just plop unknown food onto your cafeteria tray as you proceed to the end of the line. How else would you learn to enjoy strawberry-kiwi cheesecake with ranch dressing or Brussels sprouts with chocolate sprinkles?

I’m willing to try a variation on this blind dining theme. I’d like to dine at a really pricey restaurant where I can see, but the waiters are blindfolded. In addition to witnessing some fun slapstick entertainment (dropped platters, slip-and-fall accidents), I could get away with paying for my entire party’s meal with my Pet Supermarket rewards card.

I’d like to open a Chinese restaurant and serve blindfolded patrons. No forks would be allowed; only chopsticks. In addition to not seeing your food, you could also get it in your mouth.

I’ll call it Ming’s Eating Disorder Cafe. And as soon as word gets out in the anorexia community, I’ll be a millionaire.  

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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