When I told friends and colleagues I would be heading to One Door East in Fort Lauderdale for Dining in the Dark, there were two responses: “that sounds cool” and “why?”
I had always wanted to try it, a dinner experience where guests are either blind-folded or sit in a room completely devoid of light to eat their meal—sans utensils. The goal? To experience food a completely different way, giving your senses of smell and touch an opportunity to play along.
At the bar, our group was greeted by Greg Kovach, donning a black Chinese silk robe over his clothing. He ushered us into the dining room, guarded by two entrances of heavy black curtains and blacked out windows. Kovach ceremoniously asked us to “turn in” our utensils—as well as silence and put away our phones and smart watches—and as I tucked one of my napkins into my shirt I wondered why I thought a white blouse was a good idea for this activity. Kovach then turned off the dimmed lights and blew out a candle, plunging us into the pitch-black world of Dining in the Dark.
For the rest of the evening, he would rely on night-vision goggles to serve our meal, and us, our sense of smell, taste and touch.
With each course, dishes were paired with a glass of wine (short-stemmed, thankfully). We could only hear the bubbling of liquid making its way into the glasses, smell the waft of soy sauce or cilantro from our plates and bowls. One by one, I ran my hands around the platters, taking in the size and texture of each one—when have I ever done that?—then went against everything I had been taught and put my hands into each dish. I knew what oysters tasted like, but never felt the squishy texture in my fingers as I brought it to my mouth, or the flakes of fish falling apart in my hands, the feel of sauce running down my wrist.
As a group, we worked to identify what kind of wine we were drinking, or the sauces and garnishes used on our food. Did someone taste ginger on that thinly sliced tuna? Did we just have skirt steak? Is anyone else closing their eyes even though it doesn’t make a difference? So many items we had difficulty identifying by smell, even sometimes by taste. As Kovach took our finished plates away, he would tell us details of what we ate, typically followed by the table crying out, “That’s what it was!”
At one point, we were all positive we were served a glass of white wine, but it was actually rosé.
The meal ended with a dessert of chocolate, yuzu, and banana-bread pastries, finished off with a tasting of port wine. As the lights came back up, we were slowly brought back into the real world—we were shocked to find that almost three hours has passed since we began our journey.
Besides the fun of the evening, it was also mind-opening to experience just a bit of what it is to have a visual impairment. In fact, the Foundation Fighting Blindness hosts Dining in the Dark events in cities across the country to raise awareness and funds. The first ever dark dining was in Germany, and only a select few restaurants around the world do it. In South Florida, Chef Adrianne’s in Miami hosts Dark Dining and the now-closed Market 17 in Fort Lauderdale used to as well.
Want to give your senses a work out? Dining in the Dark is a $105 six-course meal incorporating menu items from Chef Giovanni Rocchio’s restaurants One Door East and Valentino, plus some off-menu items, but for an additional $45 guests can also enjoy a wine pairing. The communal dinners are scheduled for 6:30 and 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays in July with regular restaurant hours commencing in August.
One Door East, 620 S. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale; 954/368-6902; onedooreast.com