Quick what’s your favourite food trend? Farm-to-table and locally sourced? Everything adorned with a fried egg? Food manipulated to look like other food aka molecular get over yourself gastronomy? Fancy comfort food? Bacon chocolate and bacon wrapped veggies and basically bacon everywhere? Yeah, me too. But here’s one that’s starting to turn into A Thing for those that like eating adventurously, or at least completely cluelessly: eating in the dark.
When I say dark, I mean can’t-see-your-hands, eyes-don’t-adjust, what-the-shit-is-this-on-my-fork and who-just-grazed-my-leg dark. Blind as a bat. Helplessly inept. Inert. Totally hooped and most likely reverting to eating with your fingers like a caveman by course two. You get me? It’s dark.
These dark restaurants are having quite a moment, with independently owned locations popping up in the likes of Berlin, Paris, London, San Francisco, Toronto, and my good old hometown of Vancouver (go Canucks! Just joking!). It seems there’s something to dig about losing a sense, relying entirely on taste and immersing yourself in the pleasure of eating with the blissful absence of the trivial i.e. eye contact, table manners, getting dressed, etc. Besides being liberating in a carnivorous, instinctual way, it’s also an interesting social experiment when you’re forced to tune in to what your date’s actually talking about, without the distraction of appearance or other people around. Because of that, everything is sharper, more acute, like touching the dial on a radio just so to zero in on that crystal clear bit of frequency. It’s trippy, and satisfying, and just like other things that are trippy and satisfying, you gotta smoke some of this.
Charlie and I ventured to Vancouver’s own Dark Table ready to surrender ourselves to the whole experience, mystery meat and all. You’re allowed to order off the menu if you’re a pussy, in the light at the entrance before you’re escorted in, but I challenge you to do what we did and go for the “surprise”– three courses of their choosing. The servers are all blind or visually impaired and know the restaurant inside and out, so you’re going to have to throw your relationship issues to the wind and trust them right off the bat to expertly guide you through the experience. I won’t lie– the darkness is shocking and intimidating at first, and there’s nothing sexy about the conga line of your hands on your server’s shoulders as you’re led to your table, blinking and stumbling like a drunken mole. But once you sit down and feel for your cutlery (you won’t really use that once you figure out no one’s watching) and are poured a hefty glass of wine (thank you, finally), the easy, warm chatter from the other tables in the room feels just like any other restaurant. While we giggled into our bread basket and made Anchorman jokes, everyone else talked about normal dinner topics like home renovations, their days at work, even singing happy birthday to some poor sap, like the fact that we’d all been turned into Helen Keller was totally normal and buttering your napkin by mistake was nothing out of the ordinary. It felt relaxing. Comfortable. And freeing.
Except for when you had to go to the bathroom.
We were instructed by our server to call his name when we needed to get up so he could lead the way, so off Charlie went while I was left in the dark to eavesdrop on the Tinder date sitting next to me. We were also instructed to wait for the server to collect us from the bathroom, but because Charlie is a man, he decided to “go it alone” and find his own way back to the table, which meant I got to listen to a succession of “hello there! oh, pardon me,” and finally a defeated calling out of “hello? hello?!” while he apparently hugged the only wall he could find until our server came to his rescue. Word to the stubborn: it’s best to listen to their instructions and go slow when you’re fishing for that wine glass. Unless you’re Charlie, in which case just shoot a hand out like a snake in a can and fumble for it until it works its way to the edge of the table and smashes off into nowhere. He is soooo good-lookin’.
Like a restaurant with a beautiful view, you might think because Dark Table is more of a themey place that the food doesn’t need to be that great. And that might be true if you did have that beautiful view to look at. But all Dark Table can really rely on to bring you back for a second visit is the taste of the food, and they seem to get that they’ve gotta work extra hard to impress in that department. It isn’t wildly fancy, but it’s rustically hearty and satisfying, with things like roasted squash salad (I think), rich and tender beef stew (veal?), and cheesecake with berries (I’m playing it safe) for dessert. It’s surprisingly good. Some culinary highlights:
Is this a great date spot? Unless you want to show off that new Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress, then yes. It’s sensual and romantic, and just out of your comfort zone enough to make it interesting. This might even be an out-of-the-box first date spot if you owned a brass pair of cojones, or at the very least wanted a good story to tell. It’s great to take people from out of town, too, or that friend you have who chews with their mouth open. Bonus is it isn’t crazy expensive either, ranging around the $40 range for three courses per person. So to sum it up: you don’t have to look nice, and the food is great and plentiful and won’t break the bank. The only thing not to like is that this face isn’t going to admire itself (she kids!) and I do love a romantic dinner over candlelight. But for once in awhile? It’s worth venturing out into the black.