November 30, 2012 | 8:41am
Dining in the dark: some people will never get sick of the concept; others turn up their noses, saying it's been done for years and to many the novelty has worn off. When Market 17 brought dining in the dark to Fort Lauderdale a few years back our own New Times reviewers were mixed on the concept. That being said, we decided to try it again.
Tonight, a group of us were celebrating a friend's birthday. We entered the dark room and sat. Our server Greg gave us the rundown. "All of your other senses will be heightened. You will most likely eat with your noses just over your plate. You will be able to focus on tasting the individual components of the dish. Your sense of hearing will be heightened: you will really be able to focus on the sound of the water being poured into your glasses. Now, we have silverware here as an option, but we highly suggest using your hands."
Everyone pushed their silverware away. A second later, the lights were out. We were all awkwardly giggling and trying to figure out how to compose ourselves. Where should we look? Should our eyes be opened or closed? Whose leg is that? I was seated next to my best friend: the birthday girl. Let's just say she is not the most laid-back person in the world. In fact, she's the opposite: anxious as hell. I could sense her anxiety starting to rise. Her husband and I let her hold her our hands.
Before walking in, I had never thought about anyone freaking out in the room. Kirsta Grauberger, Managing Partner of the restaurant, says, "It doesn't happen very often, but every now and then when somebody surprises someone and they don't tell them before coming to M17, and the host didn't know their guest had a fear of the dark or extreme claustrophobia. So we recommend not surprising people. Luckily, 99% of people find the dark relaxing and embrace the experience."
Since Market 17 brought the idea to South Florida, a few other restaurants have started to offer the experience. SoLita in Delray occasionally offers dining in the dark. And according to Grauberger, "I've heard of other restaurants offering it as a one-time event, but guests are blindfolded: not in a dedicated dark room."
The first course arrived. We blindly stuck our hands into the plates. Salad? Covered in dressing, it was not what we would have expected. Scooping up the lettuce leaves and beets between our fingers, we laughed about feeling like toddler cavemen. It was a ridiculous feeling, but at the same time very entertaining. The anxious birthday girl finally started to relax. And started to laugh about her little freak out.
As the evening progressed, the food got messier and was even more difficult to eat: a fish course served over rice (seriously, rice?), steak and mashed potatoes (are you kidding?), zucchini bread pudding with ice cream (WTF?). Not to mention the drinking part. Taking a sip of wine between bites was a trying endeavor; unless, you are ambidextrous--which I most certainly am not--good luck keeping the grease off your glass. By the end of the evening I could still feel the greasy salad dressing and schmeared butter from the mashed potatoes all over my glass. We were cursing the chef -- in between squeals of laughter.
Most trying of all: heading out to the bathroom. Greg did help us out of the room, but navigating around chairs, in heels, in the pitch-black is not the easiest task of sorts. As soon as you exit the room, you are blinded by the lights of the hallway--which in reality are not all that bright. When we returned to the door of the dark room, all we could hear was a bunch of loud voices spilling out. I thought you were supposed to have a more acute sense of hearing in the dark? Not this table.
Was it a bit gimmicky as one of our past reviewers had claimed? Maybe. But it was an absolute blast. The food was delicious, the wine pairings were fantastic, and quite honestly it was the most entertaining meal any of us had experienced in a while. Although I wouldn't suggest it if your friends are not fun.