“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”
This week my friend Brianne and I are off to Dark Table in Kits to try dining in the dark.
The idea behind blind dining is that you enjoy a meal in a pitch black room. Without your sense of sight to guide you, your other senses (touch, taste, hearing and smell) are intensified, allowing a new perception of reality. (Either that or I’ll just spill food all over myself and get in trouble for accidentally feeling up our blind waiter). They say the idea started with a Swedish fellow named Jorge Spielman who blindfolded his guests in an attempt to show them what eating is like for a blind person. Spielman’s guests so enjoyed the experience that these dinners evolved into a restaurant concept that is popular in London, Paris, New York, L.A. and Montreal and in September of 2012 found its way to Vancouver.
We arrive at 5:30 for the 5:45 seating and are given menus to look over on the patio outside. The menu is small but not unappealing. It features a surprise starter, a choice of 5 mains (or a surprise main) and a surprise dessert. Brianne and I both decide to go for surprises across the board: surprise starter, surprise main, a surprise dessert and a surprise cocktail.
Having made our selections, we are introduced to our blind waiter Dustin, who asks us to follow him inside. As the door closes behind us we are in some sort of pitch black entry way. He tells us he will now lead us to our table in the dining room and instructs me that he will place my hand on his shoulder and that Brianne should place her hand on my shoulder and we’ll single file shuffle into the restaurant. When we get to the table he takes my hand off his shoulder and places it on the back of my chair and then leads Brianne to her chair. Having seated us he says we can call out his name if we need anything and that he’ll be back shortly with our drinks.
The darkness that surrounds us is immense and impenetrable. I thought for sure we’d be able to see the outline of something but no, the room is utterly black. I feel extremely disoriented and more than a little panicked. Suddenly I feel like I am back in the isolation chamber. I am completely without context or direction and feel totally unable to escape! Admitting my panic to Brianne she confirms that she feels similarly and we giggle nervously. I tell her she looks lovely.
Dustin arrives at our table with a basket of warm bread and advises that I should reach out and take a piece and place it on my plate, which has a packet of butter on it. Once he leaves, Brianne and I struggle with buttering our bread. It’s impossible to butter it uniformly but I discover that it helps to spread it on with a knife and then use a finger to spread it more evenly. Despite my effort, I get a huge glob of butter in my last bite.
Our drinks arrive with our starter. Dustin tells me that he has placed the starter in front of me, the drink is on my right and he will now place my hand on the base of my glass. (I am surprised at how good he is at finding my hand; it seems we might not end up groping each other after all). The surprise cocktail is delicious, it definitely has some gin, bitters and lime in it. The starter is also tasty. We enjoy guessing at the ingredients. It’s some sort of a salad, with arugula, quinoa, pears, goat feta and a citrus vinaigrette among other things.
When Dustin takes away our starter I ask him if he could recommend a glass of wine to go with our entree. He asks what our entree is and I tell him I don’t know, it’s a surprise. He says he’ll take care of it.
Our entrees arrive. After a brief probing and some smelling, we decide it’s a variation of the goat cheese and fig stuffed chicken breast we saw on the menu. Our wine is some sort of chardonnay and very good with the chicken. It is a delicious meal; although I struggle a little with the vegetables. At one point my nose is violated by a particularly bold length of parsnip and Brianne admits to accidentally putting her fork up to her cheek rather than her mouth more than once. I end up eating with both hands, one tentatively feeling what’s on the plate and the other using the fork to stab. It’s not pretty. Curious about presentation, we feel our food and contemplate wether it’s pretty or not. It’s hard to say. Eventually it seems like I’ve eaten most of the food on my plate but I’m confused about wether I’m full or not. Something about never having seen the food confuses my sense of how much I’ve eaten and how full I now am.
Brianne strikes up a conversation with the table beside us; which is not an easy feat. She asks how their dinner is and we chat a bit with them. It’s hard to know when to speak without visual cues but I am glad she’s being bold. I admit to her that I have been making faces at her as she speaks and she says she’ll do the same to me. We contemplate wether the room has night vision cameras and how much we’d pay for a recording of our dinner.
Dessert seems to be some sort of a berry cheesecake. It’s delicious and disappears too fast. Before long I am probing the plate with my finger for any missed crumbs and savouring my last drops of wine.
It’s around this time that Brianne has to go to the washroom and so she calls out Dustin’s name, tentatively at first but then with more insistence. It’s a weird situation because we’re pretty sure he’s working somewhere in the room, taking an order or clearing a plate and just not able to answer immediately. We give up and a few minutes later he appears, ready to guide us to the washroom and out to pay. Dustin reaches out and takes Brianne’s hand. She asks him if people ever just hold his hand. He politely says they usually hold his shoulder. Embarrassed she goes to slide her hand up to his shoulder and ends up grabbing his peck instead. Apparently there will be some frisking after all.
As we shuffle through the room single file, hands on shoulders, I sincerely hope that the washroom is lit and Dustin won’t need to assist us in there. As it turns out the washroom is dimly lit (thank god) and features some fairly fancy heated toilet seats with bidet and dryers built in. Brianne is feeling bold and tests the toilets features, exclaiming in delight at the experience. I imagine Dustin can hear her from outside the washroom and I decide I am not bold enough to get bidet’d tonight.
Dustin meets us outside the washroom and leads us to the paying area, which is dimly lit. The girl we pay confirms what we ate and I am surprised by how accurate our guesses were. Dustin then leads us back through the pitch black dining room and outside into the blinding evening sun where he bids us goodbye.
Utterly disoriented by the evening light we are giddy as we climb aboard the bus and head home. What an amazing experience this dinner has been. It has definitely given me a real appreciation for how other people experience the world and what I take for granted.