Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dining in the dark.

On Friday, Ed and I "dined in the dark" at Opaque. My best friend Jess went to the Opaque in Los Angeles and raved about the experience, so when Groupon's deal of the day was 50% off dinner for two at the one here in San Francisco, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to try it.

As the reviews accurately reflect, the food at Opaque is not amazing. It isn't bad at all, it's just simple and basic and nothing special, especially considering the price. There's a choice of two salads, then either chicken, fish, beef, or pasta, and a choice of two desserts. If we hadn't gotten the 50% discount this might have bothered me more. But the experience is so cool, I think it's probably worth the full price even though the food is just adequate.

The restaurant is literally pitch black. I was prepared for this, but I guess Ed didn't realize that we would be completely blind for the duration of the meal, so he was considerably more disoriented. But personally, I loved it, and actually found it pretty easy to adjust. I think that it was easier for me because I used to be very into theater, and so I've done a lot of acting exercises that involve visualizing things that aren't there. And just in general, I spend a lot of time in my own imagination, so it wasn't uncomfortable for me to be forced to imagine my surroundings. Ed suggested that maybe this is why I prefer to keep the lights dim in our apartment at night, while he tends to keep more lights turned on, which makes sense. The downside to that is that I guess I am pretty tuned into my other senses normally, so I didn't experience the dramatic heightening of sensation that Ed did. The wine did taste wonderful, but I think that's mostly because Ed surprised me with a particularly nice bottle.

There are other restaurants that try to replicate the "dining in the dark" experience with blindfolds, but for me, the darkness itself was the essential element. It felt so tangible and velvety, like we had been dipped into a dreamworld. I found it surreal and stimulating and exciting, which is how I feel about almost anything that causes you to perceive the world in a completely new and different way than you are used to. It definitely reminded me of dreaming, but also of "flavor tripping." (When we moved into our last apartment in the Marina, we had a housewarming party, and at the party we had miracle fruit, or Synsepalum dulcificum, which are berries that make other foods taste sweet for the next hour or two. So everyone eats one berry and then tries various foods and excitedly discusses how crazy everything tastes.)

I loved the way that the darkness wraps you up like a blanket, hiding you from everyone and hiding everyone from you. I also enjoyed eavesdropping on other peoples' conversations. There was a couple sitting very close to us who seemed to be having a very awkward second or third date. The man had a thick European accent that I couldn't quite place, and he was being fairly rude to the woman he was with, who was having more trouble functioning in the dark. They were pretty entertaining. But of course, I was very aware that other people could easily eavesdrop on our conversation, so I felt compelled to speak as quietly as possible and to hush Ed when he raised his voice. And of course the main thing I wanted to talk about was blindness, and what it would be like to be blind, but the waitstaff are all blind and for all you know they could be standing right next to you the whole time, so it's this constant struggle to not say anything that could potentially be deemed insensitive.

I think it would be good for society if people were occasionally deprived of one sense at a time. It would keep us from feeling too powerful.

I'd want to go back to Opaque if the food were better. According to Jess, the food at the one in Los Angeles is similar. I looked at reviews of a restaurant in Paris that also serves food in the dark, but it sounds like even there the food is lackluster. I so wish there was a restaurant like this with really great food, and a more extensive menu. If such a place existed, I would go as frequently as I could afford to.


susan said...

I agree, putting yourself in a situation where you are off balance and unsure of what is going on around you would sharpen your other senses.
I also think it must be very good for the blind wait staff, to be in the dominant position while everyone else is disoriented. Which brings another question to mind. If you can't see how do you know what you are tipping?

Caitlin said...

Oh, you order and pay in a dimly lit hallway outside the dining room.

susan said...

go it. do they hand you your cutlery then or do you have to feel for them at the table?

Presh said...

this sounds incredible. i really want to try it. but i also feel like i'd be tripped up on the logistics. like what susan asks about having to feel for cutlery. or even having to feel for your glass of wine. i swear i'd spill all over myself. but this sounds like a great groupon! boston groupons are so shitty. sigh.

Caitlin said...

I think the napkins and silverware were already on the table. Everything else, plates, glasses, and the bread basket, were either handed to us or else the waitress put them on the table in front of us and explained where they were. I kept putting my wine and water an arm's length away from me because I was paranoid about knocking them over, but it wasn't really a problem. Eating was a little messy though.