Fumbling with my fork in the dark
A pedestal stands outside a building adorned with the English alphabet; patterned dots, otherwise known as braille, are underneath each letter. The building exudes mystique.
So what’s inside? From what I can tell there are chairs, some walls, and some tables with rubber mats. There is darkness, that’s for certain, and my friend Kari is sitting (somewhere) in front of me. As I talk into the dark abyss I hear other conversations around me, and the odd beckoning for "Rose" or "Erica" by other guests.
This is the Dark Table, where guests are meant to experience dining in complete darkness. Before starting this unique dinner experience, Kari and I were staring at a menu, pondering what we wanted. Should we order the surprise dish? How adventurous were we feeling? Taking our chances, we opted to have three out of the four dishes as a surprise. Next, it was time to sort out beverages. Concerned about spillage, I was hesitant to order wine but I needed to quench my thirst, and while water is efficient, wine tastes better. Chianti please.
With our dinner decisions made we were then introduced to our server, asked if we were “ready”, and escorted in a hand-on-shoulder chain to our table.
We started our meal with some fresh, still warm-from-the-oven bread. We were told that there was butter on a side plate in front of us, a knife on our right and a fork on our left. As I reached out in front of me I expected to stick my finger in to a pile of freshly whipped butter and was surprised to discover that it was in a packet, similar to something you would get at Tim Horton’s or on the ferry. The butter packet is practical, but cheap, especially when served with delicious bread.
As I could feel the bread crumbs falling on to the table, I couldn’t see it but knew I was making a mess. The wine, meanwhile, somehow avoided spilling over the course of the night.
Our first course came out just as we were finishing the bread. We were told to eat it with our fork at first, and then with our hands. What could it be, we wondered. Digging in, it didn’t take long to figure out it was a spring salad. Since it was a surprise dish every bite was like a new discovery: a strawberry, greens, even an endive leaf filled with what tasted like goat cheese. Our server was right about using utensils then hands: after hopelessly stabbing at our plate to find another bite, we both opted to use our hands to finish the dish.
Our empty plates were whisked away and there was time to chat before our entrées arrived. We were both curious as to what the surprise dish was, and eager to attempt sharing our dishes in the dark. As our server dropped off the two dishes she announced the pre-ordered dish of chicken stuffed with goat cheese and dates, with orange gastrique, roast potatoes and veggies, and left the other dish a mystery. We eagerly dug in to our dishes, allowing each other a couple of bites to gauge how we felt about it, before blindly stabbing at each others plates to try the other dish. Imagine our surprise when both dishes were almost identical. While mine had sweet dates and creamy goat cheese, hers had gravy. We even had the same veggies: one asparagus spear, a beet or two, sweet potatoes, carrots, and then roast potatoes as a side. A little variety would have been nice, especially when we specified that we would be sharing. On top of that, the meat was slightly over-cooked and a bit dry.
I loved the flavor pairings in my dish with the sweet and savory components, but it was definitely not a mind-blowing dish. I couldn't even give it bonus points for appearance; although according to our hostess they are prepared quite aesthetically pleasing, even if they are cut in to bite size pieces ready to eat.
My final thoughts:
Dark Table is a great outing for two or four, but anything more than that and you'll be shouting to attempt a conversation with someone at the other end. Also, go with someone you're comfortable sitting in the dark with for over an hour. While being with someone in broad daylight for an hour seems easy, while being in the dark with them only works if you're okay with a bit of silence or can keep a flowing conversation with someone you can't see.
As it's a totally unique experience I can see many people dining there to see what it's like, or when family or friends are visiting from out of town; I can't see it in someone's weekly, or even monthly, routine. Also, for that price ($33 two course, $39 three course) you can find a better tasting meal in town.