Dining in the Dark

by Alona Abbady Martinez

Put away your cell phones, there will be no Instagrammable moments tonight. As the name suggests, “Dining in the Dark” has quite a different goal: to immerse food lovers in the ultimate sensory culinary experience, sans the eyes. The idea is that by depriving our sense of sight, the other ways in which we experience the world (sound, smell, touch, and, most importantly, taste) are heightened to a new, and incredibly powerful, level. Here are two South Florida venues getting people to stop, close their eyes, and shed a (different) light on the dining experience.

Chef Adrianne’s DARK DINNING and Wine Bar

Chef Adrianne Calvo has been hosting Dark Dining events once a month for twelve years. Each has its own theme and everything from the food to the music is handpicked by Chef Adrianne to create the ideal environment. Reservations are mandatory and fans of her event know to keep a close lookout on Instagram, as once posted it quickly sells out.

Arrive at the beloved eatery housed in a nondescript strip mall in Kendall to find a crowd of smartly dressed diners that quietly converge in the suburban parking lot. Seven thirty arrives and like clockwork the door unlocks and a friendly waiter donned in black pops his head out to the crowd. “Welcome to Dark Dining,” he announces as the crowd lines up. There’s an attendance list and assigned tables, depending on party size, with each place setting crowned with a soft sleep mask to be worn throughout the evening. Dim lighting and jovial music set the scene as guests are taken to their spots. The theme of the night we attended was Mykonos, Greece, which would explain why “Zorba’s Dance” was part of the soundtrack.

The soft lighting allows guests one last chance to see before darkness takes center stage. Waiters take drink orders (a glass of the restaurant’s award-winning pomegranate sangria is an apt start) to get the evening going. Eight o’clock rolls around and Chef Adrianne enters the dining area carrying a mic. The crowd roars with delight as if Mick Jagger had arrived.

She explains the concept—the importance of masking the sense of sight to heighten the others, and, even though there is silverware on the table, encourages diners to first smell and even touch the series of small plates that will be brought out. With that, she asks everyone to place their blindfolds on and announces, “welcome to Dark Dining” to another rigorous cheer from the crowd.

Once blindfolded, diners are treated to a glass of champagne. Chef Adrianne explains that every Dark Dining she hosts begins with bubbles—a celebratory beverage that happens to have great sensory properties as well. The evening progresses with a series of small courses and wine pairings that one is invited to decipher before Chef Adrianne comes out to reveal the dish as well as give a bit of history on its origin. Mykonos night included tzatziki with pita, lamb chops, moussaka, and swordfish over skordalia, a thick puree whose base is primarily garlic, and a sweet ending of loukoumades, Greek doughnuts drenched in honey. For those control freaks that may be struggling with the idea of complete darkness, be consoled that one’s level of sight hindrance can be adjusted. A simple shift of the blindfold and you’re back in the dimly lit setting, capable of taking a photo, or better yet, flagging down a waiter who will happily take a picture of your table for memory’s sake. Like most events here, it feels like family. Chef Adrianne visits tables hugging diners like they are long lost friends, ensuring a moment worth remembering, even in the dark.

One Door East

Darkness is taken seriously at Chef Giovanni Rocchio’s unique split eatery featuring two restaurants, one Italian, (Valentino Cucina Italian), the other modern Asian, (One Door East). Launched a little over a year ago, this iteration of dark dining is hosted by Greg Kovach, who greets diners draped in a traditional Chinese kimono and a set of night vision goggles strapped to his head before guiding them into a private pitch-black dining room. Kovach led the immersive meals at Market 17 for over seven years before joining up with Chef Rocchio at One Door East. The six-course meal is based on seasonality, chef specialties and availability. Each Dining in the Dark menu is different for each session. There are no utensils provided, but napkins abound.

“Today everyone is on social media posting photos of their food before they take their first bite,” says Chef Rocchio. “If we remove the light in the dining room it gives diners the chance to open up the conversation and their palate. Dining in the Dark adds more depth to the social experience and gets you in touch with food in a way that you have probably never experienced. It’s time to start playing with your food!”

With a maximum of 12 diners gathered around a communal table, the setting is intimate and strangers quickly become friends. Kovach glides seamlessly in the dark serving everyone (whom he’s assigned a number for easy reference) whispering “on your left,” as dishes are gently placed down. He asks that participants wait until all diners are served. Then, in a soothing, baritone voice, announces: “Please enjoy!” That is the cue to officially begin. 

“Don’t forget to taste the new wine,” he commands, referring to the six glasses placed in concentric formation just north of the mystery dish. With no utensils, exploration is mandatory. The night we visited, dishes ranged from oysters with pineapple mignonette, roasted beets with lemon curd yogurt, blueberries, and pistachios, duck lettuce wraps, seared ahi tuna with crispy rice, and smoked pork belly with smashed crispy fingerling potatoes and mojo sauce. Each dish undergoes rigorous analysis, both by fellow diners placing guesses on what they are ingesting, and then with Kovach who asks for suggestions before revealing what is in each dish. The same goes with the wines.

“Before you know it, you are smelling, licking and dissecting each bite,” Kovach, who always allows each guest to guess what they have sampled before telling them what they’re actually chewing on, adds. “It’s always fun to hear those who come up with the wrong answer, it’s like a mind trick.” By the end of the evening there’s a unique bond between diners who only know each other by the numbers  1-12. “There’s definitely fruit in this Number 2,” Number 5 announces as dessert is served. The flavors are buttery, grilled, tart and sweet, and, exactly as Kovach promised, explosively alive and delightful. 

Leave a reply

Theme developed by TouchSize - Premium WordPress Themes and Websites