It’s the year 2028. We’ve finally got our jet packs and Golden Retrievers rule the Earth as benevolent dictators. At a futuristic cocktail party (where blue fizzing drinks are served by robots) someone mentions the notion of dark dining.
“Dear Lord,” exclaims the hostess—a woman who’s likely wearing a shiny, silver mini-dress. “Dark dining is soooo 2008.”
Isn’t it, though? A few years ago, I’d never heard of dark dining. This year, it’s everywhere. Is it a fad, or a movement that’s here to stay?
Judging from the food at Opaque, I’d vote fad.
But let me back up a bit.
Dark dining is just what it sounds like, though nothing can really prepare you for the experience itself. (Which is far better than the meal, and almost worth the cost.) Literally, your food is served in a pitch-black, can’t-see-your-hand-in-front of your face dining room. Some servers are visually impaired, others are not.
The experience begins in a softly lit antechamber. Diners choose from a set menu, with chicken, beef, fish and vegetarian choices. You can elect to be surprised, or to read a description of the individual components of your meal.
The front staff communicates with the wait staff via headsets. When it’s time to be seated, your server appears at the door to the dining room. You’re encouraged to grab on to your server’s shoulders, form a sort of conga line, and head into the darkness.
This is the point at which I became terrified.
How big was the room? Who else was in it? Was there a gaping chasm plummeting to a pit of boiling lava just to the left of my feet? I had no idea. And it really threw me for a loop, which was an incredible learning experience.
Our server—who, for the record, was sweet, patient, and very good at her job—led us to our table. She described the table setting in detail, and helped us get seated. The sound of my own voice felt deafening in the blackness. It took me quite a while to adjust. For the first few minutes, I was so disoriented, I couldn’t form a coherent sentence.
Then the giggling set in.
Ian, one of my very favorite coworkers, got us started by earnestly whispering, “Quiet, you guys. You’ll wake mom and dad.” From that point on, it was all over. It was like someone had left the nitrous tank unscrewed in the corner.
We started with an amuse bouche—a goat cheese filled tomato that was actually pretty good. (Set on a spoon that was, in turn, set on a plate, it was relatively easy to eat. Good starter food.)
Then our salads arrived. Imagine passing a salad down the table to your friend in absolute darkness. Childhood trust issues tend to arise. You also get the opportunity to discover what your neighbor’s hands feel like. I lucked out sitting next to my other beloved coworker, Isabela. She’s very soft.
Anyhoo, the salad course was a letdown. Passable, but wholly unremarkable. No need to belabor the point.
Trying to refill one’s wine glass in the dark, however—very fun. (More giggling ensued.)
Between the salad and main course, we were offered crudités with three different dips. We opted to stay in the dark (har har) about their origins, but quickly worked out the list: Roasted red pepper, wasabi aioli, and curry were the flavors du jour. Many a finger entered the dip. Which was, once again, a source of much schoolgirl giggle-age.
My Pasta Primavera was fine, in a middle-American wedding banquet sort of way. But here’s the thing. My three course meal—salad, entrée, and dessert—was $99.00. For 99 bucks I expect something, well, nice. The experience of being in the dark was incredible, but the food was a complete disappointment. Just imagine how amazing it would be to enjoy a delicious meal in the dark—how the flavors might pop with your senses heightened. I dunno. I imagined something akin to auto-erotic asphyxiation. But nothing popped for me. It just fizzled. Sigh.
So anyway. Mango panna cotta. Blah, blah, blah. (Yeah, I know it’s got gelatin in it. I just couldn’t hack another flourless chocolate cake, you dig?)
All in all, I had a great time. But it was the pure entertainment and education value that drove the evening. Would I recommend it? Sure. Go once. It’s an incredible exercise in empathy and a fun experience to share with friends. Still, if dark dining is survive into the teen years of the century, the folks at Opaque have gotta step up the chow. Otherwise, there’s no reason for a return visit.