Dining in the Dark


Take away one sense and the others are heightened—that's what they say, right? You can test that theory in spades at Dining in the Dark, a program that launched in Europe and has now made its way to L.A., San Diego and recently, SF. The experiment takes place in Crimson Lounge, the downstairs private-event space of Indigo restaurant in Hayes Valley, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.

The hostess greets you and takes you down a flight of steps to a narrow sitting area where you peruse the menu and choose a fixed-price, three-course meal—or you can simply choose beef, chicken, fish or vegetarian without knowing the details, if you're up for guessing. Then a legally blind server fetches you and leads you through a velvet-walled black maze into a pitch-black dining room that will certainly be the darkest space you've ever inhabited. Your eyes will not adjust and eventually see shadows or outlines. Those liquid-shaped flashes of purply-red that you see are not forms in the room; they are the mirages of blood vessels in your eyes.

My first reaction to the blackness was a lower-brained sort of agitation; I knew I was safe, but my lizard brain did not. It makes one fidgety. But the server explains the placement of everything on the table, and the simple system of handing you everything at the corner of the table, and soon you get the hang of it. Of course, without sight, you need to feel the servers' hands to know where to grab the plate or glass. The music in the room seems amplified, as does the conversation of your fellow diners. The most challenging aspect, though, is using a fork and knife in the dark. It's tempting to simply eat with your hands.

So how was the food (prepared by Indigo chef Michael Whang)? Quite simply: delicious. I had a juicy grilled salmon filet over a warm salad of chickpeas, green beans and cherry tomatoes. The arugula salad that preceded it and the bittersweet chocolate cake that followed it were much more fun to eat with my hands than they would normally be. There was also a mid-meal course of crudites with three dipping sauces for guessing. And, on an interesting note, I found I had no desire to continue eating past the point of being full, since my eyes weren't luring my stomach down any paths of overindulgence.

One tip: Go with someone you're intimate with. You'll be touching them, and you'll have no gestures or facial expressions to go by, so it's not a first-date setting.

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