Dinning in the Dark by Nicknameless


This is Nicknameless’s review of Dinning in the Dark:

Nicknameless and Me at The Great Jack-O-Lantern Blaze in 2010

Souzapalooza is the sort of friend who’s always doing something interesting or knows the latest new, fun thing to do in the area; she always suggests activities I’ve never heard of and they’re always fun.  So, when she suggested dining in the dark – something about which I would have otherwise been suspect – I accepted straight away.

And I’m glad I did.

When we first entered the dining room, it was dark.  Really, really dark.  Like, your-eyes-will-never-adjust-to-this-darkness dark.  It was kind of overwhelming.

We were led to our seats, left to sit down, and as my eyes failed to adjust, it felt like my eyes had fallen asleep.  I resisted the to urge to rub them the way I would any limb that had gone to sleep and set out to distract myself with what was in front of me.

While studying photography in college and learning how to develop film in the dark, one learns the hard way to re-place everything according to the natural space your body inhabits.  At six-foot, this becomes especially important as the default placement of anything is well within you-just-knocked-it-across-the-room range.  Case in point, if I placed my elbow on the edge of the table, my water glass was just at wrist-length’s away, not hand.  My silverware was where my forearms could comfortably reach them but if my hands tried, I’d quite possibly elbow the lovely woman sitting next to me in the face.  Needless to say, I nudged the silverware and the cup up and into proper positioning.

Naturally, as soon as everything was in place, our guide Sam informed us not to touch anything on the table, as he’d be explaining it all.  I’m good with timing like that.

I had ordered the white menu (the adventure-themed menu), along with Souzapalooza but, for some reason, they only had our table registered for one White menu.  Souzapalooza, the ever-gracious host, insisted I take it.

The starter was put in front of me and I had a momentary gleeful wiggle as I realized I knew how to access everything.   My diligence had paid off and I was feeling kind of smug.

And then it dawned on me; I hadn’t seen the plate I was eating off of and so while I could get my fork, knife, spoon, water glass and napkin, I didn’t actually know where the food was.

Needless to say, I was happy I had washed my hands before I entered the room as I quickly realized this was going to be a truly hands-on experience.

I leaned over and breathed in deeply the scents wafting off the plate.  There were too many to sort individually but I definitely sensed areas with warm food and areas with cool food.

As I reached the top of the plate at the end of my inhale, I caught the scent that jarred me back to cooking in my wok in my kitchen in the middle of winter with no heat in Northern China.  I could ‘see’ the horrible yellow-orange of that dingy old kitchen and my fingertips tingled with the ice-cold of the granite counter tops.  Since I was leaning over the plate at the same angle I had to lean over in that kitchen to reach anything on a counter, my back reflexively started to ache.  The sensations were so overwhelming; I had to pause for a moment. Without sight, there were no senses that I could generate that placed me in New York, so I paused and focused on the conversation at the table.

Souzapalooza then asked me what I had and, as I’ve known Souzapalooza long before I’d gone to China, I found my anchor.  It took me a moment to answer as I felt like I’d just snapped out of a realistic dream.

Sesame oil! That was the scent that had yanked me back to my kitchen that cold day in China.  I was very excited to be able to identify what in that dish had tripped my memory like that.  The sensations came instantly and it took me a moment to get a handle on the sensations enough that I could actually put words to the scents.  I was excited to actually start eating!

I walked my fingertips from the rim of the plate towards the center to find my first piece of food.  I found something warm, square and crusty.  I took a bite and was immediately in my herb garden.  I felt the warm earth between my fingers and my shoulders relaxed the way they do when there is sun on them.  As I bit into the warm bread, I felt the velvety leaves of rosemary and the bristly stalk; it was rosemary and olive oil bread.  I worked my way around the plate and found something that melted in my mouth and jolted me back to the first time I saw the wonky hills outside of Siena; prosciutto.  I eventually found my way to the veggies covered in sesame oil when the main dishes were brought out.

The main course was a complete blank to me.  It had several meats in a salty sauce.  I continued tasting around the plate hoping to find something that would jar me the way the starter dish had.  Alas, nothing worked and quite quickly, the saltiness became overwhelming.  I switched to water until the dessert course came out.

Dessert was placed in front of us and the warm, baked slice of bread pudding sent me straight back to a British friend’s home during college.  Incongruously enough, his family was entirely British but they lived the good life in the California Bay Area and the first time I had had bread pudding I was sitting poolside at their home, slightly buzzed on margaritas. I think it was the echo of saltiness from the main dish combined with the bread pudding that brought me back to post-margarita bread pudding.

I continued working my way around the dessert dish and found a mouse that I spooned into my mouth.  It was extremely sour and so when my mouth first started to burn, I paid it no mind, as you would when eating a Sour Patch Kid.  There were small chunks of fruit I registered as pineapple but the mouse itself was not pineapple.  I continued my way around the dish and found a cardamom-flavored jello but my mouth continued to burn.  And then it dawned on me that the mouse was made with mango oil, as I’m allergic to mango oil, but I ate it all anyways because I might have a problem with my love for mango.

And so, I think that old statement is true; when one sense goes down, the others become stronger.  Or at least seem to be stronger.  Of late, so often food has been perfunctory.  Being able to see has allowed me to multitask while eating.  Dining in the dark forced me to slow down and reengage my sense of smell and taste with eating.  It was an experience not to be missed!

Leave it to Souzapalooza to once again find something really, really fun, random and interesting to do!

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