By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
Two hours from the time we sat down, server number three presented the bill ($117 was a fair value for three courses plus a bottle of wine) and droned on: "The Joe Schmos will think this is frou-frou; the foodies appreciate food like this." Underwhelmed, we wished the chef had spent less time making art projects of his dishes and paid a little more attention to actually feeding us.
I wasn't thrilled to return, but I wanted to try the novel dining-in-the dark experience. Co-owner Kirsta had tried it at a restaurant in Europe and excitedly made it a part of the restaurant, going so far as to build a special dark room for it at Market 17. With the exception of one or two restaurants offering blindfolded tastings, there isn't anything in South Florida that compares.
I called on a Tuesday afternoon with foolish hopes of snaring reservations that evening. Only a 9:30 p.m. several days later was available. The afternoon of our dinner, a polite employee called to say the party dining before us had doubled, thus shifting our reservation even later. Grrr.
When my boyfriend Justin and I arrived, only to be seated at the bar to wait for the room to clear, I was in a foul mood. I felt guilty about dragging my paramour to a 10 p.m. dinner when he wakes for work every morning at 4. I had visions of him passing out facedown in a plateful of farm-fresh foods.
About 30 minutes later, a server, Shane, trotted up to us, night-vision goggles resting against his forehead. "My party of 12 is just leaving, but they are a little drunk." He asked us if we had any food allergies and how many courses we wanted. We chose four ($55 per person), but you can get up to 17. To add a wine paired with each course costs just an additional $15 per person.
We were led to the dark room, a small space with two tables, enclosed by glass walls. It is painted black and glistens under the faint light of two crystal chandeliers. Shane drew the curtains and dimmed the lights as our eyes adjusted to the pitch black. My inner child squealed with anticipation.
"I just put the silverware there for show," Shane said, letting us know it was OK to eat with our hands. We giggled and pushed our cutlery aside as my mood melted. We couldn't hear the clatter of the dining room. There was only muted jazz and our playful whispers.
Shane announced his presence each time he entered the room. "I've seen some interesting things in here," he quipped. He told us to put our hands on the table and placed a cold, stemless glass into them. I sniffed and was greeted with a bouquet of peaches. Ah, a crisp white wine.
Once Shane placed the first plates before us, I hesitantly touched the food and felt cold, firm rectangular shapes that I immediately assumed to be sashimi. I was perplexed by the flavor. My brain was prepared to taste fish.
"It's some kind of cheese!" Justin excitedly proclaimed. He was right. Our first course, as Shane told us when we finished, was heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and mixed greens paired with a California Sauvignon Blanc.
Guessing the foods quickly became a game, and we found ourselves giddy for Shane to return so we could yell out our answers.
On the second plate, I felt soft textures of meat that bounced back each time I pressed them, and what seemed to be large bits of rice. I licked a cream sauce as it dripped down my palm. Cutting off Justin as though we were contestants on Jeopardy, I yelled out to Shane: "Red snapper, risotto, and cauliflower purée!" Despite not being able to see, I am 99 percent sure that Justin rolled his eyes at this moment. Turned out, it was pan-seared Florida tripletail served with creamy pearl barley risotto, vegetables, and a broccoli cream sauce. The exciting flavors of the dish were washed down with a well-balanced New Zealand pinot noir.
The third course felt like a pile of canned dog food. I wiped warm pieces of juicy meat in a sweet sauce. I figured it was rib-eye steak with Cabernet reduction sauce. But guess what? It was the same entrée from my first visit — the Ocala rib eye. This time, the steak was much improved — with just a mild smoky flavor.
The last course seemed to include 20 different pieces of bite-sized desserts. A crunchy caramel corn. A Key lime mousse. A chocolate-pistachio truffle. Justin's hands were covered in chocolate as he leaned over and blindly groped my face. "I love this chocolate bread thing," he gushed. The monkey bread.
My hands were covered with sticky passion fruit-rosemary-mint purée by the time I grabbed a glass of bubbly that we thought was Prosecco but were surprised to learn was an Australian sparkling Shiraz. From the power of suggestion, I suddenly noticed the frothy flavors of black currant and berry fruits that I previously missed. How novel it is to play with your food in a fine restaurant! By the time we left, my mood had done a 180.