Looking for a way to get out of your head? Why your feelings are the decision
When I heard about Dinner in the Dark, I looked for a way to test this phenomenon. Twice a week, downtown restaurant Abigail’s Kitchen offers a blindfolded dinner. “Without sight, visitors’ other senses are enhanced,” the website promises. “Smells, textures and sounds become more intense.”
I couldn’t wait to try it, so I found a date when Eliza, Jamie and I could go (the experience included wine, so underage Eleanor couldn’t join us). On the appointed evening, together with thirteen other visitors, we waited in the bar of the restaurant for the adventure to begin.
“This seems to be a popular date night activity,” I remarked as I looked at the other people in line.
“Are you going to eat carbs, mom?” Eliza asked.
“I will eat everything that is served to us. Come on!”
First, Abigail herself handed out lightweight adjustable masks that allowed us to open our eyes without being able to see. Group by group we descended the steep stairs, put on our masks, and were led into the dining room to take our seats. I tried to imagine the surroundings. A recording of birds chirping was playing, which made me imagine a garden decor with white and green color scheme, patterns and plants. (I later discovered that was completely inaccurate.)
As we settled in, Abigail instructed us to find the little baskets in front of us and wipe our hands with a warm washcloth inside. Then the servants collected the washcloths, and the meal began.
The menu was secret so Jamie, Elise and I had fun trying to figure out what food we were eating. The first taste was light: a small triangle of crispy toast with olive oil, garlic and plenty of salt. With our masks on, we could actually hear how much noise we were making when we crunched.
Next was a cold soup served in a cup – very tasty. We guessed that it was tomatoes with basil. The next dish, a cold macaroni salad with beetroot and goat cheese, was easier to identify. In the dark, I did notice the smooth, firm surface of the pasta, the earthy sweetness of the beets, and the creamy texture of the goat cheese—thankfully, the cheese was mild because, as I learned from my taste test, I don’t enjoy strong goat cheese.
“Do you think people snoop at dinner?” Eliza asked.
The next course was served, and after a few bites of the hearty, fatty, lingering meat, we decided we were having steak, but neither of us could identify the other, slightly tart flavor we experienced.
“It’s hard for me to cut up food and put it in my mouth,” I said. “Do any of you have trouble getting anything on your fork?”
“Me too,” said Eliza.
“I used my hands a little,” I admitted. “Now we know why we needed those washcloths.”
“It doesn’t matter, no one can see you,” Jamie said.
“Servers see!” Eliza said. “Don’t be rude!”
After an easily recognizable dessert of warm molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream, Abigail told us all to take off our masks. When I took mine off, I saw that we were sitting in a cozy room with light wood and a minimalist feel that was very different from what I had imagined. When Abigail told us what we ate and drank, everyone laughed and exclaimed, “Oh, it what was that!” We learned that the soup was pea with mint, the main dish was duck, and the tart taste was pomegranate. After her explanation, we all applauded and the evening was over.
The lunch was an amazing exercise for my taste buds. I ate more slowly and paid more attention to each bite—its taste and texture, and even the difficulty of getting it into my mouth. I was much more aware of the different ingredients and spices that went into each dish.
The evening was also an exercise in other ways. The small room was buzzing with music and conversation—perhaps to help us focus on the food? — so it was a little hard to hear, and since I couldn’t see Jamie and Eliza, I had to listen more closely. Also, I kept reaching out to touch them both to stay oriented. It was an interesting mix of interactions: I felt more connected to Jamie and Eliza and less connected at the same time.
Best of all, it was an evening merriment— an elevated version of my own taste party. Jamie, Eliza and I had a wonderful time on an unusual adventure.
However, looking at it as an exercise in pure taste, I think I would appreciate the flavors more if I knew what I was eating. In her talk after dinner, Abigail noted that when ordering, many people added long lists of foods they didn’t want to eat. She explained that the eye mask is not meant to force us to consume foods we would otherwise avoid, but rather to help us pay attention to the non-visual aspects of dining. While the mystery was fun for me, my wariness distracted me from enjoying the taste.
The greatest pleasure of Supper in the Dark, besides the novelty, was the opportunity to share an unforgettable evening with people I loved. It also made me realize that I usually didn’t pay much attention to the individual ingredients of a dish; I experienced it as one combined taste. During Dinner in the Dark, the lack of sight forced me to notice different elements of each dish—specifically, I registered the level of saltiness and texture of each dish much more sharply than usual—and that subtlety of sensation. gave me more pleasure.
“From now on,” I announced to Jamie and Eliza, “especially every time I order something at a restaurant, I’m going to read the description of what’s in it and really try to appreciate all the different ingredients.”
“Good idea,” said Eliza. “I’ll try to do that too.”
The more we notice, the more we can enjoy.
Get your copy Life in five senses here and listen to an excerpt from the audiobook read by the author below.