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Dans Le Noir

A recent New York Times article discussed the concept of dining in the dark at Dans Le Noir, a popular chain that has restaurants in London, Barcelona and St. Petersburg, and is due to open in the garment district of New York this week. The feature of this restaurant that makes it so unique is that patrons, literally, eat in the dark. Before they are led into the main dining room, guests are led to a locker room where they are required to leave everything on their persona that would emit any kind of light: phones, watches and, yes, iPads. They are then taken back to the dining area and seated across from their dining companion but always next to a stranger. The food they are served is cleaned of bones, pits, fat and any other inconvenient hindrances that may provide difficulty when eating. Guests are advised not to come dressed in their finest—bibs are not provided, and regular napkins are the continued norm.

 If I were unbiased, I understand the socialexperiment: Cordoning off your other senses allows you to focus primarily on the food and drink you are consuming. Your taste buds are heightened; you can distinguish flavors more easily, and, admittedly, you focus on the contents of your dish. But if I were honest, I have to admit: I don’t really get it. For me, the pleasure of dining at a restaurant is in the entire package: the dress, the shoes, the playlist that includes La Vie En Rose and the social scene around me. Call me crazy, but I actually like comparing my meal to my neighbors’ and to observe whether they choose a red or white wine to compliment their risotto. I enjoy noticing the aesthetics of the dish as much as I enjoy its consumption: the strewing of petals over my duck, or the garnishing of a wine based raspberry compote on my cheese platter (let’s not even get into the pleasure of assessing the texture of the numerous types of cheese in front of me).
 
The flavor of food does not come simply from the sauces and marinade that work magic in the kitchen. The real flavor is acknowledged with the wine or beer pairing that you have chosen purposely to compliment your taste; it is acknowledged with the observation of how different ratios of your dish congregate on your palate. The proportion of veal, butternut squash and pickled shallots needs to be visible in order to assess what division of the three comports the perfect bite. The chocolate lava cake, accompanied with a generous dollop of caramel ice cream and honeyed almonds, attributes part of its magic to its pairing with a slightly tannic wine and good friends on a Friday night.
The concept of cordoning off the senses in order to heighten the experience of eating, which is what restaurants like Dans Le Noir attempt to do, seems fairly redundant. Not only does it destroy the compilation that goes into a lovely meal, but also it also doesn’t really work. In the same New York Times article, Edouard de Broglie, the chief executive of the investment group that owns the chain of restaurants comments that patrons “confuse veal and tuna, white and red wine.” In essence, we have a restaurant that attempts to pique its patron’s taste buds, but ends up placing the latter in a complete flummox as to what was just consumed. Pardon me, but part of eating a fantastic Black Bass fillet is appreciating that it is, in fact fish, and then fully immersing yourself in the flavoring that the soft flesh releases. If the patron does not even realize it is fish in the first place, I fail to see the point of heightening the sensory organs. Guessing is for games night, or as a last solution—it is not a method that should be taken up by choice, especially with a too-high price tag.
 
Call me cynical, but this is not an experiment I would like to take part in. If there is a general existential crisis of consumption that needs to be solved, think of a creative decorative solution, or expand your cocktail menu. There is no point in offering me a Cosmopolitan, if I’m only allowed to sip it in the dark. Dinner is not the time for an Adele breakdown.

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