Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dining in the Dark: Like dining in the light, but harder

Posted By on Tue, Nov 23, 2010 at 8:45 AM

Here I am enjoying crab, curry and raisin risotto at Dining in the Dark (dramatization)
  • And, here I am enjoying crab, curry and raisin risotto at Dining in the Dark (dramatization)
When I told my mom I was covering a Dining in the Dark event for work, you’d have thought I told her I was covering a Dining on the Contents of Dirty Diapers event. Really, the idea of eating a meal in pitch darkness was that offensive to her. After lots of “Oh my Gods” and “Gwynn, that’s disgustings,” I broke it to her that blind people would be serving the meal. That completely blew her mind. Apparently, she thinks of a server as a sort of quality control officer, a culinary watchdog whose vigilance is only things that prevents the kitchen staff from putting pubes in everyone's food (what she actually said would be in my food was grosser). Obviously, in the absence of that safeguard, the people preparing the food would be compelled to tamper with it.

OK. My mom is nuts (kidding … kinda … luvs you, Mommy!), but I think there’s something to her reaction. Whether by evolutionary necessity or sheer aesthetics, people are pretty married to getting a good look at what they eat before they start shoveling it into their faces. Of course, the visually impaired don’t have that option, but for the sighted, not seeing what you’re eating — or drinking or sitting on or sitting by — is a novelty, and kind of a disconcerting one.

The idea behind Dining in the Dark, a once-monthly event in the Dialogue in the Dark space at Atlantic Station, is that eliminating the ability to see heightens the remaining senses. Foods’ flavors become more intense, their aromas more tantalizing, their textures, especially the finger foods, more interesting. I don’t really know if that was the case, but I left full of delicious things and awfully glad I could see again.

Prior to the actual meal, eight of us media types were treated to a welcome glass of wine (a bone dry white) before being escorted through Dialogue in the Dark, an educational exhibit intended to simulate the experience of blindness. As soon as the lights went down in the little orientation room, I started sweating in my wool sweater. Seriously. Panic.

A visually impaired guide led us through a series of rooms, each set up like an everyday place the blind have the precarious task of navigating — a park, a grocery store, a busy street. Despite the futility — it is PITCH black in there — I felt like my eyes never really stopped trying to see, which started giving me a headache (granted, the glass of wine — OK, two glasses of wine — probably didn’t help). I tried for a couple of minutes to keep them shut, but that felt even more unnatural. Oh, and, if you’re averse to physical contact with strangers, maybe skip Dialogue in the Dark altogether. I’m sure those red-tipped canes usually work pretty well for blind people, but when eight “blind” people are in close quarters there’s still plenty of bumping into one another, awkward grazing of unknown body parts and muttered apologies.

I was relieved — and hungry — when we finally took our seats in the dining room. For the six-course (!) dinner, Chef Ron Eyester of Rosebud in Morningside created dishes he thought would play up the experience of eating without seeing. The first two courses — a selection of fall pickles and a grilled cheese sandwich — were intended to be eaten without utensils. The grilled cheese, boring as that sounds, was a highlight. Between two buttery slices of bread was a pungent, earthy-tasting blue cheese made with cow's and goat's milk, and pieces of thinly sliced cured ham. The saltiness of it all was cut by sweet-as-honey dates.

After each course was brought out and everyone had taken a bite or two, Eyester came into the dining room, encouraged us to guess the dishes’ contents before describing them in detail. After the finger foods came two seared scallops with a truffled carrot puree; risotto with crab, curry and plump, reconstituted raisins; a noodle bowl with spongy bits of smoked beef, and lots of cilantro and sprouts; and, finally, a wintery, nutmeggy rice pudding. I have to say, the noodle bowl was an interesting choice for blind eating. Noodles are hard to eat even when you can see what your fork is doing.

I’m not a picky eater by any stretch, but I am particular about the way I eat. I like a well-put-together bite. In the dark, I had to set those neuroses aside and hope for the best. The best isn’t always what I got, especially during the noodle bowl course. I probably hadn’t mixed things around well enough, but some bites would be too cilantro heavy, others too sprout heavy, and I’d have to just let the food kind of fall out of my mouth, back into the bowl and then try again for a more balanced bite. One of our guides mentioned that there are infared cameras scattered throughout the space for safety purposes. I sincerely hope no one was manning the monitors because what they’d have seen on my side of the table would have been something like watching “Faces of Death.”

Another thing the sighted take for granted: portion control. With my vision went my ability to have any idea just how much food I was eating. Six substantial courses — risotto, noodles, rice pudding, c'mon — were put in front of me, and I pretty much just kept on eating until the next one was brought out. I seriously can’t even begin to imagine how much I ate that night, but I felt like I was going to die. In a good way. First World problems, am I right?

Dining in the Dark will take place once a month through June, featuring a different local chef each time. Gerry Klaskala from Aria is on deck for December 9, Jason Hill from Wisteria on January 20, Travis Collum from Kozmo on February 17, Tony Morrow from The Pecan on April 24, and Carvel Grant Could from Canoe on June 16 (chefs for March and May are TBD). Visit dialogtickets.com for more info.

Tags: , , ,

Comments (6)

Showing 1-6 of 6

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-6 of 6

Add a comment

Latest in Omnivore

More by Gwynedd Stuart

State of Flux
State of Flux

Search Events

Search Omnivore

Recent Comments

© 2015 Creative Loafing Atlanta
Powered by Foundation