#309 Eat Dinner in the Dark

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A few months ago I heard about a restaurant called Opaque where you eat dinner in complete darkness. What? How is that possible? It can’t be completely dark. Maybe it’s just low lighting. What if you accidentally stick a fork in your eye? In somebody else’s? Do you have to wear pants? So many questions I needed answers to. Even at $100 for a three-course dinner, aI had to find out.

I did a post about trying to be blind before. That included eating a meal. But that was just with my eyes closed in my apartment. This would be out at a restaurant with other people in supposedly complete darkness.

I made a reservation for two tonight. I was eating with new friend Kate who had wanted to go apparently ever since the restaurant was featured in an episode of Rock of Love.

On the drive over, I started to get really nervous about the whole experience mainly because I had no idea how it was going to all work. Kate said the waiters were blind. Like actually blind. I thought that was a bit overkill given the room was supposedly pitch dark. But then again, who would be a better waiter in a dark room than a blind person?

Opaque is actually set up in the back of a club called V Lounge in Santa Monica. This did not instill me with confidence. When we got there, we were seated at one of a few tables off to the side. At first I was confused because it looked like this:

That’s not very dark at all, I thought. But this was just where we ordered our food. The menu was pretty boring and uninspired. There were two choices for salad, three for the main course and two for dessert. I got an heirloom tomato and cucumber salad while Kate got the mixed greens. We both got the salmon for the main course and lava cake for dessert.

Then they called our waitress to bring us in. A woman wearing sunglasses emerged from the darkened doorway. She told Kate to put her right hand on her right shoulder. I was instructed to do the same to Kate’s shoulder so we formed a line with our waitress, Betty, at the front. Then we went into the doorway.

I expected some sort of transition area, but once we passed through and the curtain shut behind us, it was absolutely pitch black. There was no ambient light of any kind like I imagined. It really didn’t make a difference if I had my eyes closed or not.

Betty walked us to our table. We used our left hand to feel a curtain that lead to the dining room. Our table was right by the entrance. She directed us to our chairs and we sat down. She gave us a brief overview of the table landscape. Plates in the middle. Water glass on the left. Then she went to go get us some bread.

I could hear other people in the room. There was a group of loud people (more on them later), a couple that seemed to be right next to us and another table of a few people somewhere else.

It was at this point I felt very closed in. I mean, with darkness you could either be in an open field somewhere or in a coffin. You can’t tell. I started to feel very anxious. My eyes were already aching as I was straining to see in the darkness. Honestly, I didn’t know if I could make it through the whole meal.

“I feel like you’re so far away,” Kate said nervously. “I’m right across the table,” I assured her. We were both freaking out.

The bread arrived. Kate attempted to get some first. “My finger went into the butter,” she said. My crawled my hand forward slowly along the surface of the table until I felt the bread basket. I reached in and felt cold, sliminess. “Me too,” I said.

We both managed to get some bread which was nothing special. I tried to engage in small talk but it was difficult because a) the darkness was freaking me out and b) the table of loud people were getting louder.

I tried drinking next. I had a glass of water and a glass of wine. They were in different glasses so it was easy to tell them apart. Drinking was not so difficult. I made sure to put each drink back on the same spot on the table. That was pretty much key to the whole evening: putting stuff back in their spot. Well that and using landmarks. My fork is about four inches from the right of the table and two inches from the bottom.

Our salads came next. I felt the edge of the bowl it came in to get an idea of how big it was. Then I started stabbing at it with my fork. I could feel when the fork went into something but it was a crapshoot as to where to stab. In the beginning it was easy because the bowl was full. At the end I felt like I was bobbing for apples.

Next was a “mystery” appetizer. There were three things. One was a potato chip. There was something fluffy on a Chinese soup spoon and then a shot glass of a thick, soupy thing. When the waiter came back she had us guess the common ingredient which was obviously potato. By the way, I have no idea how the waiters do it. I know they’re blind but how they navigate a room full of diners with food is beyond me.

By the time our salmon arrived, the loud people were yelling and screaming. That’s not an exaggeration. “They probably think they’re alone in here,” I said to Kate. Sure enough, a few moments later, one of the obnoxious girls yelled out, “Can other people hear us??” “YES!” everybody else in the room shouted. “Oh my god!” she screamed then laughed hysterically. Yes, we can hear you. We are blind not deaf, you idiot.

Eating the salmon was difficult because now there were three items on the plate including brocoli and rice. It was impossible to cut the salmon without seeing it so I was just randomly jabbing it with my fork and trying to rip a piece off. The rice was unstabbable so I had to attempt to scoop it up with my fork. I’m pretty sure I pushed most of it of my plate.

Soon, I was hunched over my plate, shoveling food into my mouth and eating like a five year old. For some reason I was eating faster, like I had to eat before I forgot where it was. Also, it was strange, but I thought I was starting to see the table. I could’ve sworn I could see the white table cloth and even the utensils. But maybe it was my mind creating images based off of my other senses. In other words, maybe I’d become Daredevil!

While I think we had both calmed down from the initial freak out and was getting used to eating in the dark, we couldn’t really enjoy ourselves because the other table was so LOUD.

Dessert came next. It was fine. Eating it was kind of fun because I didn’t know there were strawberries on the plate until the very end when I happened to scoop some up.

At this time, the loud party got up to leave which lead to us and everyone in the room clapping. “Oh my god! They’re clapping for us leaving!” one of the girls said. “Yup!” Kate answered.

When they were gone, we realized there was music playing. We couldn’t hear it over the loud people. We sat in the relative quiet for about ten minutes, trying to enjoy ourselves finally. Then we called Betty over who lead us outside the way we came in.

The hostess asked us how everything was and I immediately asked for the manager. I told him, very politely, about the loud people. He was apologetic but not that surprised. He told us that in the dark, people’s manners go out the window and they were trying to rectify that. He ended up giving us 30% and a certificate to come back and eat for free which was nice enough but honestly I don’t know if I even want to come back.

The food was fine but the whole opportunity was wasted. The menu had nothing to do with eating in the dark. There was no playfulness in taste, texture and temperature. If I eat a meal blind, I want to pop food into my mouth and be totally shocked. “What the fuck did I just eat?” I wanted to be challenged and excited. Instead what we had was essentially wedding food; completely standard and boring. While I think Bazaar is pretentious, completely overrated and overpriced, if they had served food like that at Opaque, I would’ve been raving about the whole experience.

My suggestion to improve the restaurant is overhaul the menu. And for the love of god, give a little primer to new diners about how everything works. Say that while it’s dark, you are sharing the room with other people. And you need to have the manners you would at any restaurant where you’re paying $100 for a meal. That is not chump change, even for LA. Because those people were so loud, when I got home to my apartment, my ears were ringing like I was at a dance club.

Overall, it was definitely an interesting experience. Not worth $100 by any stretch. Sorry. Maybe if they had fun, inventive and playful food. But not now. I’d tell anyone who was thinking of going to save your money our wait for the Groupon.

I did manage to snap one photo of the dining room:

Wakka wakka!

2 Comments to “#309 Eat Dinner in the Dark”

  1. Dermdaly 9 January 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    Myself and my wife were at a dark dining event in Dublin last year. It was awesome because it had all those things you said you wished for. You literally had no idea what was for dinner; lots of it was interesting and left you guessing. It was put on my a woman who specialises in these events. Google “dark dining projects” for more info. IiRC the ladies name is Dana Salisbury, based out of new York. If you eer get a chance I’d suggest giving it a second go (with professionals)

    • Greg 9 January 2012 at 11:15 pm #

      Thanks for the info. I looked at her stuff and man this sounds soooo much better than what I did.