I am a gifted eater.
From when I first got my hands on a knife and fork, I had the system down - stab the food, cut the food, insert food into mouth. I clear my plate, usually without spillage, and I almost always enjoy the meal.
Until last month, I wouldn't have considered those skills that noteworthy. A visit to the Opaque restaurant in San Francisco has given me new reason to celebrate my accomplishment.
The reservation-only Dining in the Dark restaurant puts a new twist on eating out - customers experience eating in a pitch black room.
Guests are encouraged to enhance their sense of taste, smell, touch, and hearing by abandoning the visual sense, which the restaurant argues is often taken for granted.
Waiters and waitresses are all either blind or visually impaired, and not only bring you food but also guide you to your table, and help seat you.
Although you order your appetiser, your main and your dessert off a menu in the lighted lobby, the meal also includes surprise tasting dishes that challenge your tastebuds as you try to figure out what you are eating.
For my visit to the Opaque I brought along a notoriously fussy eater as my dinner guest, it's to say accurate to say he was more than a little apprehensive going in. After we had ordered, our blind waitress, Katie, had us line up with my hand on her shoulder and my partner's on mine, and led us through the dark dining room.
Once seated, both of us waited for our eyes to adjust to the darkness, but, with cellphones now turned off, there was absolutely no source of light in the room, and we realised that this was going to be the way we saw things for the next hour or so.
The first challenge was the bread basket, and attempting to butter the rolls proved more trying than we could have imagined. The fear of dropping our drinks, food, and condiments meant we were constantly communicating each little movement .
"I'm holding your water right here."
"I don't know where here is."
"Oh to your right [taps my hand], there."
"Thanks, can you pass me the butter?"
And so it was repeated again and again.
When appertisers arrived, trying to get salad on to our forks left us both biting air several times - I admit it, a couple of times I resorted to hands. The main meal, a beef tenderloin with mashed red potatoes, green beans, shallots and red wine sauce, cranked up the danger as I learnt how to work a sharp steak knife in the dark. A couple of misjudged cuts meant I was trying to fit a fist-sized portion in my mouth.
My dinner mate faced his own problems, as a longer-than-expected bean threatened to poke out his eye, luckily catching him on the cheek instead.
At dessert, however, I came into my own. And, although I faced initial frustration as I kept going for the ice cream and chocolate cake and coming up with strawberries, I'm proud to say that I polished off that final course in a matter of minutes.
As we were led back into the lighted lobby, I was pleased to see in a cleverly placed mirror that I had avoided leaving remnants of the meal on my face and clothes. My dinner date was less fortunate, but not too worried about the couple of small sauce stains on his shirt.
While there is a night vision camera that allows the restaurant to be monitored for safety, no videos are made - both a disappointment and relief to diners, I was told.
Although the experience was incredible, I was certainly part of the latter group, and am happy to simply have the memories - watching myself sneakily wipe sauce off the plate with my fingers is not something I, or anyone else, needs to see.
If you want to go, the three-course set menu is $US99 ($NZ125) per head. See more at sf.darkdining.com.
Follow Amelia's travel blog All These Places
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