I shuffled my hands around the table as I heard metal hitting glass all around me. A sound that normally goes unnoticed in a restaurant, but was now one of the most prevalent sounds in the room. My right hand stumbled over the silverware as I tried to distinguish which was the fork. I began to aimlessly stab my plate like a barbarian until I felt tension against my utensil. The room filled with laughter as the slightly rowdy crowd attempted to decipher what was in front of them, or rather what was about to go into their mouth. I realized, having dinner in the dark in NYC might present some difficulties.
I lifted the mystery item toward my face and before I could even get the fork close enough to take a bite, I felt something slap me on the cheek. I burst out laughing and attempted to get my food into my mouth a second time. I cautiously leaned forward and sunk my teeth into the offending item. On my fork was a piece of asparagus. We were on our second plate, and this was one of the few items that my taste buds were able to identify correctly. I reached for my wine hesitantly as my elbow brushed against something moving. It was the person sitting to my right. How closely were we seated?
Arriving at Dinner in the Dark in NYC
My dinner date, Kate, and I arrived at Camaje in NOHO at 8:00pm ready to experience what they call “Dinner in the Dark”. We were asked to wait outside of the restaurant which featured an arm chair on the sidewalk and twinkle lights in the window. The sort of homey local place you always hope to stumble upon. The chef and owner, Abby, greeted us at the door and gave us the run down of what we were about to get ourselves into. The rules were simple. You must be blindfolded the entire time you’re in the restaurant. No cheating. You should raise your hand if you need a server or help. And finally, you shouldn’t worry about spilling, using your hands to eat, or breaking things by accident. As long as you’re having fun.
We were lined up outside in a sort of blind man’s congo line as we put on our extremely comfy Mindfolds. The waiter lead the way as we held onto the shoulders of the person in front of us. Every once in awhile, we’d receive a warning of a table to our right or a chair to our left. I shuffled my way forward into the darkness and found my seat. Kate and I began to feel around the table, locating our silverware and a paper napkin. The tablecloth was covered with a thick piece of paper and we quickly began to speculate what the room looked like. Beige table clothes and gold walls? The kitchen was somewhere to my right, and we were clearly somewhere in the front of the restaurant. We were at a small table and there was a wall behind me. Oddly, I still felt the need to look around the room. My head tilting this way and that out of habit even though I couldn’t see a thing.
A weird kind of euphoria came over both of us and we couldn’t stop laughing. We were in a room where no one but two waiters could see us. It was a judgement free zone. Conversations flowed around us as everyone instantly loosened up. You could say anything and no one would know it was you. You could eat your food with your hands and no one would care. No worrying about food being stuck in your teeth. We both agreed this would be a great first date or “blind date” so to speak. The atmosphere was giddy and you could feel the good vibes radiating in the room.
Our waiter, Ernie, snuck up on us and asked that we hold out our hands. He was soft spoken, I’m sure to avoid startling us. I closed my hands around the stem of a wine glass. Real wine glasses. Not the plastic kind that doesn’t break. We attempted to cheers by slowly swinging our arms around until our glasses met in the center. I felt the spray of a mist against my nose as I lifted the glass to my face. Someone in the background guessed champagne. It was sweet with a hint of berry? I closed my eyes to savor the taste and laughed at my stupidity. I already couldn’t see.
The First Course at Dinner in the Dark
We were served the first dish. Someone to our right said to use a spoon and someone else yelled tuna. We followed suit and grabbed our spoons. I pushed it into the bowl and lifted it up to my mouth. There was nothing on it. I tried again, and again I failed. Kate was more successful than I. She was already shouting out ingredients. I put down the spoon and felt around the bowl which had a large rim. I maneuvered the spoon until it was actually inside the bowl.
Finally, I got a taste of celery? Pureed celery? Maybe onion. It was a cold soup with a chunk in the middle. That had to be the tuna. I got a bite and tasted it. The texture was bizarre. Maybe it was seared tuna? That was risky for people who may not like raw fish. Something was spicy around it. Not a pepper kind of spice, but maybe wasabi? No, horseradish. Definitely horseradish. Kate confirmed that she tasted horseradish as well, but she still hadn’t found the tuna on her plate. On the other hand, I couldn’t really locate the soup. Every bite I got was a chunk.
We were served a second wine, which we both confirmed must be a Chardonnay. Kate described it as oakie, however, I know nothing of wines. I gave her my glass and she poured it into her own. Now is the time to be impressed because she didn’t spill a drop.
The Second Course
The second course arrived with a third wine. Know that the menu changes every week, so I’m not giving anything away here. I figured out the asparagus fiasco and worked my way around the rest of the plate. I came across a squash? Kate on the other hand found meat. “Beef” someone shouted and everyone agreed. Kate thought pork (spoiler, she was right). I still hadn’t located the meat on my plate.
At last, I found a giant lump and stabbed it somewhere in the middle. Kate informed me she was using her knife (a brave move), while I opted to lift the entire piece of meat up to my face. I ate it like a child learning how to use a fork for the first time. My fork held high, my head underneath the meat and tilted to the side. I’m sure Kate was more elegant than myself (with her knife and all), but who knows. She could have just been talking a good game. For all I knew, she was using her hands.
Dessert at Dinner in the Dark
Finally, it was time for dessert. I have been on a special no yeast diet because of sinus problems, but this was my day off. I hadn’t tasted sugar in over a week. “Bread Pudding!” “Chocolate” came shouted across the room. I scooped a spoon full into my mouth, and immediately felt satisfied. It was warm and gooey as it melted on my tongue. A soft smooth chocolate worked its way into my taste buds as the crowd grew quieter, savoring each little bite.
Kate and I made a perfect match as I’m not a fan of wine and she isn’t a fan of dessert. I handed her my fourth glass as she poured it into her own, while I switched my empty plate with hers. Our waiter, who was closer than anticipated was impressed by our newly acquired skill set. I devoured the rest of her dessert wishing I could see just enough to lick the plate.
The Big Reveal
Abby, our terrific chef, reemerged somewhere in the front of the restaurant. It was time to reveal what we had actually ate. First course was a spinach and potato soup with branzino. I don’t think one person in the room guessed it right. The second course was pork tenderloin, asparagus, and rutabaga (which we were positive was butternut squash). Finally, dessert was not a chocolate bread pudding, but rather a molten chocolate lava cake. Our pairings were Prosecco, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Port.
Finally, the moment we had been waiting for. We were allowed to unmask ourselves. The room felt bright as day, but there were only a few very dimly lit lights on. The space was small with burgundy walls. We were seated on the right side of the entrance, in the middle against a wall. We were so close to our neighbors that we looked like we were all one party. It was nothing like I expected.
Camaje hosts Dinner in the Dark several times a month. It’s $85 a person which includes four glasses of wine, a three course meal, and gratuity, not to mention a one of a kind dining experience. The only thing I didn’t like was that we received our food at different times. The first people to try theirs would say what they thought it was and it instantly tainted my opinion. When dessert came, I had already heard someone say bread pudding, so I was convinced that was what I was eating. I wonder if I would have had a different opinion if I didn’t hear others thoughts first. My favorite part (besides the dessert) was the feeling it gave me. This weird sense of freedom in a nonjudgmental world. It’s a feeling that I find hard to put into words, so I guess you’ll just have to experience it for yourself.
Thinking of attending dinner in the dark in NYC? Ask any questions in the comments.
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Michelle Della Giovanna
Writer at Full Time Explorer
I’m just your average New Yorker who quit her job in the fashion industry to explore the world. Come find out what it’s like to trade in five-inch heels for squat toilets.