Monday, July 25, 2011

In the Dark, No One Can Hear You Lick Your Plate

OK, so Groupon had a deal for Opaque, which is a restaurant where you eat totally in the dark.

Totally.  In the dark.

I'd actually been wanting to try this ever since I first read about the concept (Dans le Noir -- in London, although I think it originated in Paris).  Basically, you're in a pitch black dining room (your waitperson is blind, which helps), they plop food in front of you, and you do your best to eat it.  Dans le Noir works on a "surprise" menu basis, where you pick one of four types of food (e.g., vegetarian), tell them about your allergies, and then try to figure out what they've put on your plate.  This sounded cool to me.

Opaque follows the trend, although the menu is not a surprise.  (You choose from two or three selections for each course.  Wimps.)  It's also crazy expensive, so the Groupon seemed like a good idea.  I bought it figuring that by the time it expired, I'd be dating someone.

Yeah.  That plan went well.  It was supposed to expire last weekend and I hadn't used it yet.  I mentioned this to my new co-worker at the office, and she thought it'd be cool to go.  Offered to split the cost of the groupon with me.  This sounded like a plan.  I called Opaque to make the reservation...

... and they were sold out.  BUT, they would extend the Groupon another few days and take us the following Wednesday.  They normally aren't even open on Wednesdays, but they were opening to accommodate all of the groupons.  So, Groupon Night At Opaque it was.

Here's the thing.  Opaque is located in the back of a nightclub.  And since it's dark in there, you have no idea where you are exactly.  I couldn't shake the vibe that we were actually in some tiny little back room.  I mean, it isn't like they had to splurge on decor -- I'm not even certain the floors were anything other than unfinished cement.  Just something about the feel of the place -- it didn't feel like a nice restaurant where they'd turned out the lights; it felt like a table crammed in some anteroom between the nightclub and the kitchen.  "The ambiance was lacking" is what I'm trying to say.

So, my pal and I went to the empty nightclub (not much action on a Wednesday), sat in one of the booths, and placed our orders from the "check this box" menu.  This was phoned in to the kitchen staff in back.  Then, our waitperson was called.  She met us at the door to the dark room and escorted us (single file, hand on the shoulder of the person in front of you) through a short maze of turning corridors (to make sure no ambient light sneaked in) to our table.  Once seated, she told us what was on the table.  In this case:  tablecloth, rose petals (very tactile), a napkin with silverware rolled in it, and two little bread plates in the center of the table.

She came back with our drinks.  I'd ordered a hot tea -- it was served sorta warm in a bar glass.  (That was OK with me on both counts.)  She put the drinks down and told us where they were.

I immediately moved my drink to where I wanted it to be.  I mentioned the rearranging to the waitperson, and she approved -- apparently, you're supposed to put things where you want them, even though that will mess things up for when she has to clear the table.

They'd left the tea bag in the tea, which called for some early-stage two-handed work in the dark -- I managed to remove the bag and place it on a little plate (she'd brought a little amuse bouche with the drinks).  It felt like I didn't drip tea all over the tablecloth, so this gave me confidence.

Actually, I had quite a bit of confidence on this almost from the start.  I'd read a lot of reviews about the place before I went, and it seemed like eating dinner here was navigating a minefield.  For instance, when she gives you a basket of bread, she says there's a little dish of butter in there, and everyone apparently sticks their finger right in the butter.  Perhaps just because I'm cautious (and/or methodical), I sort of started the proceedings by patting my fingertips all around the table to map the place out in my head.  Whenever the waitperson added something, I'd feel for where it is, figure it out in relation to everything else, and work my way around the edges of the plate.  So when the bread came out, both my companion and I gingerly felt around the basket until we found the little unexploded butter mine, and worked around it.  Easy peasy.

Not so easy was figuring out where stuff was on your plate -- unless you wanted to take your fingers to it.  And, really, why not?  It isn't like anyone can see your bad table manners.  But I was determined to do that only as a last resort, so I tried feeling around with my fork and, whenever I met with resistance, tasting whatever was there.  This, too, had its potential pitfalls.  Like with the "lava cake" dessert, when my first forkful was the mint leaf and my second was only whipped cream.

One thing I was particularly curious about was whether I'd eat less when I couldn't see the food.  I mean, are our eyes a big factor in determining when we're done?  Or do we eat the same amount whether we can see the food or not?

Answer:  Inconclusive.  I didn't finish the salad, although I couldn't say whether that was because:  (1)  I really didn't want any more; (2) all I could taste was the dressing, so it wasn't that exciting; or (3)  after six or seven forkfuls, I didn't want to press my luck on stabbing my plate with the fork and hoping to pick up food.  

The lava cake, however, was completely demolished. 

My friend and I initially laughed over our inability to eat in the dark, but, by the end, it was (rather surprisingly) a non-issue.  We'd even worn clothes we weren't that attached to, in case we spilled -- but we both ended up without a speck of food on us.  (I can't always say that when I'm eating with the lights on.)  We enjoyed the meal and had a really good conversation.  We ended up staying there for a total of about 2 hours, just chatting in the dark and picking at the remnants of our desserts.

As an aside, though -- I think Opaque hires their wait staff because they're blind, not because they're particularly good waitpeople.  Ours kept coming by the table fairly frequently to ask if we were OK -- it was nice at first, but, after dessert, when we were just chatting, it got kind of annoying.  Finally, when she said, "Are you OK?" for the zillionth time, I jokingly asked, "Are you trying to get rid of us?"  To which she replied, "Yes."  (OK, maybe, because we're in the dark, we missed out on the fact that there weren't any other empty tables and lots of people were waiting.  But, perhaps a, "Would you like to continue your conversation in the lounge?" would have been a bit more polite.) 

Of course, we didn't continue our conversation in the lounge.  We could have, but when we were back in the lounge, we could see what time it was, where the hell we were, and that there were all those people around us -- and there were a dozen reasons to stop talking and get going.  Being in the dark suspended time and location, and that was pretty darned cool.

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