Photo: Courtesy of Dans le Noir?
A burst of chocolate with a spicy aftertaste filled my mouth.I had never tasted anything like it before, but I had no idea what it could be, because I sat eating in total darkness.
I was dining at Dans le Noir?, a restaurant where blind waiters lead patrons into a pitch-black room and serve them a surprise menu.
“The experience lets the blind and our patrons switch rolls,” said Edouard de Broglie, founder and owner. “By the end people are kissing their waiter goodbye, because it’s such an emotional experience.”
Dans le Noir? rapidly ascended to the top of the French restaurant and social scene when it opened in 1997, and has since expanded to Barcelona, St. Petersburg and London (even Prince William and Kate Middleton have dined there).
And in February, Dans le Noir? opened in New York City.
De Broglie said the trend has been slower to catch on here in New York, but tourists have flocked for the experience. Conveniently for them, the restaurant is located right near Times Square.
A meal in the dark seemed like the perfect New York City thing to do on a recently Friday evening, though admittedly sitting in the complete dark for an hour had me nervous, at first. A friend in the media world (let’s call her Jessie) agreed to join me and we headed to W. 38th Street.
We decided to go all-out and immerse ourselves in the experience. I ordered a surprise cocktail in the lighted lounge. I was terrible at deciphering what went into the pink, fizzy drink. About halfway through the cocktail, the bartender told me I was drinking a combination of lemon juice, apple rum, Prosecco, grapefruit juice and tequila.
Photo: Meredith Galante/Business Insider
After securing all of our belongings (even our mobile phones!) in a locker, we headed into the 70-person dining area with our seatmates Kirk and Megan. Our waitress Maria, who was blind—like all of the dozen or so waiters at the restaurant (which isn’t run by a foundation and is purely for-profit)—led us into the dining room through several curtains that keep out the light.Maria led Megan, I had my left hand on Megan’s shoulder, Kirk had his left hand on mine, and Jessie held onto him.
The room truly didn’t have a single source of light. Upon entering, we instantly smelled the kitchen aromas. Since our sense of sight had been killed, the smells were intensified.
We sat and Maria informed us we had to pour our own water in the dark. The trick? Put your finger in your glass and pour until the liquid touches your skin.
Since we had a 6 p.m. reservation, the place was relatively empty and the four of us befriended one another quickly. As we passed around the bread, the conversation flowed easily, considering we’d just met. We chatted about how warm the bread was, how each pair had met, and the boy band O-Town from the ’90s.
The food is a complete surprise, and we had each picked a menu beforehand, choosing from red (some meat), blue (fish), green (vegetarian), or white (surprise!).
Being allergic to shellfish, I opted for the red menu, Megan dared to order white, Kirk also chose red, and Jessie selected green. I won’t share too many details of what I ate, since the menu changes seasonally and I don’t plan to ruin the mystery.
Photo: Courtesy of Dans le Noir?
For me, the three-course meal began with some sort of melon and sausage, and that spicy chocolate concoction I mentioned earlier.I ordered the surprise wine, too. It tasted like red, but was kept cool which confused my palette. Diners must be over 18, and are limited to three alcoholic beverages while in the dark.
Our waitress described how the table was set up, so I knew where my fork was, but it was hard to stab some of the items on the plate. Eventually, we all gave in and started using our hands, too. Fortunately the meal wasn’t drenched in sauce, so navigating the plate was simple enough.
Earlier, de Broglie had told me there are three sections of each plate. The first item should be a very recognisable flavour, the second a bit harder to detect, and the third unknown to the common palette.
As the four of us chewed our meals, we all naturally started describing them out loud. We even passed food around with our hands. Jessie had a lot of fried vegetables, and Megan tasted a lot of fish.
At times, Jessie got so quiet pondering what she was eating, I had to ask if she was still there because I had no other way of knowing.
After the main course, but before dessert, a group of what sounded like six people were led into the room and were seated directly next to us.
Unfortunately, the crew completely ruined the latter half of the experience for us. They flashed their phones (which they were supposed to have given up), and complained so loudly that my table couldn’t hear each other. (On the fun side, you really have no idea who is sitting next to you. Tim Burton dined here two weeks ago and no one had a clue).
We scarfed down dessert and gulped our second glasses of wine, and asked Maria to take us out.
When we emerged back into the light, it was hard to get our eyes readjusted. We were handed the actual menu and while we won’t mention the specifics, there were definitely some unexpected items.
I will say, the food was delicious, and the social and physical experience was unlike any other dining experience I’ve ever had before. Just be wary the meal will cost upwards of $150 for two (including drinks).
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