Imagine sitting in a restaurant, surrounded by people you can’t see. Imagine not knowing what food is being presented to you until it reaches your lips – and even then, second guessing exactly what it is you’re eating. What would you learn about the senses you rely on to eat?
These are the questions behind Dining in the Dark: A Blind Tasting Experience presented by Fever. Begun in Madrid, Spain, the experience expanded throughout Europe before making its way to the U.S., its popularity growing along the way. Curiosity is the main driver – after all, it is certainly a unique concept.
You’ve probably seen the ads in in your social media feed – they feature a blindfolded couple and hosts of comments from people eager to try something new. Once your curiosity is piqued and you delve in to see what the meal involves, you’ll find this description: “Ever wondered what it is like to eat in the dark? Eminent psychologists have been advocating dining in the dark as the ultimate taste experience for many years. Studies show that 80 percent of people eat with their eyes; with that sense eliminated, the theory is that the other senses—namely taste and smell—take over to elevate your meal to a whole new level.”
With only that information in hand, I made my reservation at one of two seatings offered on Thursday nights at Mastrantos (the restaurant serves the normal dining experience on other days). After my husband and I were seated, we were presented with eye masks, and an announcement was made that dinner was about to be served and it was time to don our masks.
It was an immediately strange sensation. I’d never realized how much I rely on eye contact and non-verbal communication until I sat across the table from my husband and had only his voice to rely on for connection. At the same time, the other sounds in the room seemed amplified. I suddenly noticed the music playing in the background. I heard the bartender mixing drinks in cocktail shakers. I heard the conversations of the people around me.
We chose to add on the optional drink pairing, and when our first drink arrived, the waiter said, “I’ve placed your drink in front of you, at the center of the table.” I reached out and felt for my glass (yes, regular place settings are used, including wine and cocktail glasses). When the glass met my lips, I realized it had a spice rim, something I didn’t expect. That’s when it dawned on me how much I rely on my eyes to know what’s coming, and anticipate it.
When you purchase your tickets, you are asked to choose a mystery meal from three options: Red is meat, Green is vegetarian, and Blue is seafood. That’s all you know going in, so you are in the chef’s hands.
As courses arrive, the waiter places a dish and then tells you just a smidge about it, along with what utensil is needed. My first course was described as “crispy on the bottom and soft on the top. You can eat it with a fork, or you can pick it up and bite into it.” My husband was told, “Yours requires a spoon. It has chunks in a broth.”
I was surprised that even getting food to my mouth was a bit of a challenge. I couldn’t see if my fork was actually picking anything up, so sometimes I got a forkful of air. Sometimes I got too much. Sometimes I even missed my mouth and poked my lips. My husband struggled to neatly eat his brothy concoction and eventually picked up the bowl and drank from it.
Then there was the fact that we had no idea what we were eating. I like to cook and am familiar with ingredients and spices, so I was at an advantage. I could identify flavors and get the gist of what I was eating. Or so I thought.
After the last course was served, the diners were told to remove their masks. The sous chef then asked us to guess what we had just eaten. This is where it got truly funny. My husband had commented throughout the dinner about his steak. Turns out, it was pork. I had pronounced that I was eating cod with a strong lemon flavor; in actuality, it was salmon with lime.
I won’t say more because everyone should have this experience and enjoy the surprises for themselves. But I will say this: I listened more intently to my husband’s conversation, I thought about what I was eating and noticed all the subtle flavors, my other senses were heightened, and I enjoyed an experience unlike any other.
To reserve your own experience, go to the Fever Houston website. This experience has sold out every week since it opened in September, so be sure to plan ahead!