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Blind Eating the Blind by Dining in the Dark

At NYC's Opaque restaurant, restaurant patrons are guided through a $99 price fixe meal in complete darkness by blind or visually impaired servers.
Photo via Flickr user Paul Hudson

"Just imagine, that you cannot see for an hour or two, that you are abandoning vision in exchange for a new, multi-sensual dining experience," proposes Opaque, a restaurant whose patrons are led by blind or visually impaired individuals who have been "specially trained to serve meals in the dark" into a "literally pitch-black" dining room to eat in complete darkness.

The idea, of course, is that by relying on other senses, you expand them: the stickiness of caramelized shiitake in sake reduction on your chin; the aural crunch of a pickled radish giving in under your molars; the salty pop of a quivering cherry tomato or caviar; the tickle of saffron, making out with a raw oyster; the faint aroma of goat cheese even after you swallowed; discovering the full shape of a plump, girthy pork tenderloin. If this sounds like porn, thanks.

Photo by Jimmy Chen

Photos by the author

From veganism to raw foodism, or even the organic penchant, new "foodie" dietary restrictions seem to all have some morally instructive didactic bent. It's like playing with your food, politically. They've always felt, to me, inadvertently complicit to the very institutions of classism they are supposedly weary of. No culture with a history of starvation chooses not to eat food when it is abundant. Only here do our ambivalent masses pensively intellectualize food, personalizing a larger problem into something about ourselves. That religions won't eat certain meats only point to a kind of restless solemnity, as if such abstinence were an unwitting measure of faith, not a personal expression.

Left without meat, or heat, or a good ol' fashioned pesticide, food tourism needed another constraint. Sight, or sound.

Opaque is trying to sell you an experience, to augment the most of the time non-profound experience of eating crap. It's rather bleak, this metaphysical hunger in people which has less to do with food than supplementing some vague and gnawing existential void. In Buddhism, people often confuse the loss of self with the conquest of it. Seems like all this devout minimalism and Zen posturing may just be bougie consumption, something to Instagram, to run through an aesthetic filter. What does it mean to be solemnly grateful, to break one's fast with the timeless celebration of food?


Maybe, to simply just eat.

It may be ironic that such metaphorical blindness is actualized on the table. In a kind of obtusely beautiful way—though it's hard to imagine they are not doing so without some kind of playful self-awareness—patrons take earnest photos of their dinner without using the flash. What results is conceptually wonderful yet completely absurd: identical black squares of ostensible legitimacy, each one looking like the perfect Malevich, though one could easily paint bucket a .jpg in MS Paint with black, or simply take a picture in the middle of the night. We need to believe these are actual photos taken at Opaque, in order buy into the narrative of its profundity. If the reductional experience of eating food has reached a gimmick point (like Brooklyn restaurant, Eat, whose meditative patrons, as in a monastery, solemnly remain tacit throughout their entire meal), then what shall we give up next? Our hands? That could be messy.

Photo by Jimmy Chen

Not to be confused with ABC's Dating in the Dark—a reality dating show whose contestants got to explore each other in pitch blackness until the ultimate moment when the lights turned on—"Dining in the Dark" promises a change of seen… I mean scene. Eat restaurant, speaking of television, reminds us of MTV's Silent Library, whose brotastic contestants must engage in laughable stunts without making peep. Television, sadly, got there first. It is our central nerve.

A prix fixe menu in pitch blackness is $99 dollars, not including drinks, libations whose aggregate cost—your smooth waiter nonchalantly asking if you'd "care for another glass," to which you tispyishly affirmatively nod—often comes near to doubling the bill. That this contradicts the entire notion of prix fixe points to the very hopeful inner-deceit of fine dining, to which we are merrily complicit: such "fixed price" is far less an economic euphemism than simply chance to splurge, our dopamine receptors firing off, before the reality of the bill. The dream now over, one abashedly tips twenty percent. They have locations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, New York, and Dallas.

This may not exactly be the place for a first date, but perhaps the second, or third, our eager suitor in need of an interesting experience. The saddest thing is seeing a date where a disenchanted couple look around the room trying to lock eyes on something besides each other. Now they don't have to.

The giddy utopia of being blind—whose permanent affliction is a waking nightmare—is just around the corner. A trained professional will lead you there.