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Arriving at Dans Le Noir
The white letters lit up the alleyway as we made our way into the Parisian restaurant. Dans Le Noir is French for In The Dark and this was exactly where we were about to go. We checked in with the host and were very grateful to find out that she spoke English, as my French lessons had not been put to use in a few years.
The host led us down a spiraling staircase to a set of lockers where we would be storing all of our personal items during the dinner. This was for a few reasons:
- A purse on the floor in a pitch black room is a disastrous fall waiting to happen.
- Any light-emitting gadgets would spoil the experience.
I took off my Apple Watch and pulled the phone out of my back pocket, placing it in the locker.
“So, which one will you be doing?” the host asked, motioning us to the menu on the wall.
Ordering Off Of The Menu
This was no ordinary menu. It simply allowed you to choose how many courses you wanted and how many drinks you’d like with those. I opted for the Degustation Menu. I’d be getting a starter, a main course and a dessert, each paired with a different glass of wine (I decided not to do any mixology in my stomach with the cocktail).
“Now is there anything we need to know about food requirements before you head in?”
Being a picky eater, this was quite possibly the most terrifying question to hear. It would be a lot easier to list what I do like, rather than what I don’t. I took a deep breath, embracing the experience. Besides, maybe I’d be pleasantly surprised with something I’d thought I’d hated before.
I took another deep breath, now looking back up at her, “No seafood and no mustard, please.”
What? Everyone has to draw the line somewhere.
“So, all of our servers are either blind or partially sighted and tonight you will be experiencing what their everyday life is like. This is Marie. She is going to be your guide and server. She can speak a little English for you, okay?”
Marie beamed, and tapped her shoulder, while turning around.
“Grab the right shoulder of the person ahead of you to make a line and she will guide you to your table. Enjoy!”
Entering the Dark
Tiptoeing forward with my hand on Marie’s shoulder, she opened the curtain flap in front of her and we stepped into the darkness. I could no longer see my own hand in front of me, no matter how hard I strained my eyes. All around me, I heard silverware scraping plates, laughter of the unknown and the French language dancing in the air.
There was no doubt about it, we were the only people in the room who would be speaking English tonight. In a way, this made the experience even better. The atmosphere was light and happy, but I was still in my own little world without distractions of wanting to eavesdrop on the conversations around me.
“Here,” Marie stated, taking my hand off of her shoulder and placing it on the back of a chair. I felt the edge of it to find which way it was pointing and sat down at the table.
“Hello?” I said into the dark, wondering if my date had made it to the table with me.
“Where are you?” a familiar voice called back across from me.
“Water,” Marie said, feeling down my arm and placing a glass in my hand, “Water,” she repeated, as I listened to a jug thunk onto the clothed table.
“Here we go!” I said laughing, unsure of how my first blind test would go. I began pouring the water into my glass until I realized that I would have no clue when it was full. Sticking my finger inside of the rim, I filled the glass until the tip of my index was wet.
“Wine,” Marie said, shoving another glass into my hand.
“Here, let’s cheers first,” my date said, “Where are you? Oh, there,” he answered himself, while I heard a clink that I was not a part of.
“What was that? Where are you?”
“Oh,” he replied, now laughing, “That was the water jug.”
“Cheers!” we said, now meeting in the middle.
As I heard some timely snickers three tables to the right of me, I began to realize that even though we were the only ones speaking English, we may not be the only ones who understand English.
Course 1: The Starter
“Here is first course,” I heard Marie saying across the table, placing food in front of my date.
Leaning forward to ask him what he thinks it is, my hands fell into a sticky surprise. Marie was so fast and quiet that I hadn’t even realized she set my food in front of me as well. My palms were now coated in…well, I don’t know what they were coated in, but it felt like mashed potatoes. Wiping the unidentified substance off on my napkin, I felt around until I found my fork and took a bite.
“Hmmm…it’s like, squash, I think? Or pumpkin? What do you taste?” I asked, curiously.
“This is good. The potato is the best part.”
“Potato? Where’s the potato? I don’t think I have that,” I said, disappointed, while stabbing various shapes on my plate. I took a big scoop placed it in my mouth.
“There’s some sort of nut–walnut, I think. And I don’t know what the blend is, but it tastes like peas. And–Oh my god. Oh my god. What was that? It’s like wet and leaves and something. Maybe seaweed? Where’s my wine I need my wine, BLUGH.”
Besides whatever the wet salad was, I finished the appetizer and it was fabulous, especially when paired with the fruity white wine. Every bite felt like an explosion of a new flavor in my mouth, although I’m not sure if that was because I was missing a sense or because it was really incredible food.
Course 2: The Main Course
Marie came back to clear our plates in perfect timing and it was unbelievable how quickly she did so. I think it took all of ten seconds to grab all of our plates, used silverware, and empty wine glasses without missing a beat. This is something I would completely fail at if I was a server in a pitch black dining room. I wondered how the waitresses didn’t run into each other while walking back and forth from tables. I felt as if I was in a parallel universe where nothing made sense, but it was still effortlessly perfect.
“Wine,” Marie said, hitting me in the face with a chilled glass. Okay, I guess not everyone is perfect. However, to her credit, I was leaning forward on the table so it might’ve been more my fault than hers.
Our main course came next and it was short-lived. A juicy some-sort-of-meat melted in my mouth. There was a side, too. It had the consistency of mashed potatoes, but I don’t think it was potatoes. We had fun guessing the notes of the citrus wine that accompanied the meal.
“That was so good. I want more,” my date said, laughing and probably wishing he had the same appetizer as entree, “Wait, where’s my water? Give me back my water.”
“What do you mean? I didn’t touch it,” I said back, second-guessing myself.
“It’s gone. I swear I put it right there. What the–” his sentence broke off as I heard a clunk against the table, “Ughhh, I fricken’ knew it.”
I could see why most of the reviews said not to wear white and to be aware of your wine glass at all times.
“Hey, at least it was only water,” I said, laughing because of his accusations before the spill.
Course 3: Dessert
Alas, the course I’d been looking forward to most arrived: Dessert. Dessert is something one normally closes their eyes to enjoy anyway, so I had my best round of guessing yet.
“It’s like Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, but different. Like, there’s definitely pineapple and rum and vanilla ice cream.”
“It tastes like those Forrero Rocher chocolates.”
“Oh my god, it totally does, the chocolate and the hazelnut. I feel like I have three different desserts on my plate.”
However, even more delicious than the dessert was our final glass of wine. I felt like I was drinking a garden. It reminded me of the rosewater lemonade I used to drink during my summers in Wisconsin. The sweet red flower filled my palate, blossoming over the chocolate that adorned my taste buds.
Our meal was coming to an end, but we decided to give ourselves one final test. The host outside told us that we could always order more of anything once inside and no meal in France is complete without an espresso at the end of it.
One Last Taste Of The Dark
“No coffee,” Marie replied. We later found out this is because, due to the temperature of the hot espresso, it is too dangerous to order in the dark.
However, we couldn’t help but notice the full bar before we walked in, so we decided to end the meal another way.
“Can we get two shots of tequila?” he asked.
“What?” Marie asked. I would’ve paid extra to see her facial expression.
“Tequila? Do you have?”
“Oh, yes. Tequila, okay.”
“Yes, two tequila shots please,” he assured her.
Suddenly, this universal word took over the dining hall as, “Tequilaaaaaa!” began ringing back and forth across the tables while we sang back, “Tequilaaaaaa!”
Unfortunately, Marie wasn’t fully on the same page, as she brought back one shot. As we tried to explain we needed one more, a couple next to us chimed in. They were older, I could tell by the voice. The man was trying to help us get another shot, but as we explained to him, his wife said, “Ohhhh no, I can’t do tequila. I’m okay,” now believing that the extra shot was to be bought for her. I can’t say I was disappointed in her declining as the mess would’ve only gotten messier. Even so, our miscommunication was fixed and Marie brought a second shot to our table.
“Cheers,” we said, now clinking each other correctly across the table and finishing the meal. I realized now that the food wasn’t good just because I didn’t have sight. The tequila burned just as terribly as it did in the daylight.
Finding Out What We Ate
“Ready?” Marie asked, lightly grabbing my arm to guide me back out into the light.
“Ready,” I said, placing my hand on her right shoulder as she led me with ease out of the black abyss.
I came out wincing, as if someone had just turned on the blinding light and woke me up from a peaceful slumber. The host guided us downstairs, although this time we were able to walk on our own. Opening up an iPad, she revealed the pictures and ingredients of what we had for dinner.
Finding out there was no potato at all in the first course had to be the most hilarious part, especially considering my date who “doesn’t like vegetables” was drooling over some roasted pumpkin. I’d actually identified more ingredients than I had faith I would. However, nothing felt better than nailing the tasting notes of my wine glasses, especially the rose in my last glass.
A Lasting Message
For two picky eaters, I was quite proud of us. We had an entire coursed meal and scraped our plates clean without knowing a single ingredient that was in front of us. Though I thought this was never an experience I would have (due to it not being very pleasant if you hate the food), I can say with 100% certainty that it was my best dining experience in Paris and I would absolutely do it again.
I learned that some things aren’t always as you suspect they might be and some people aren’t either. Dining in the dark really opened my eyes to something that we take advantage of everyday: Sight. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel helpless during that one hour I spent in the dark. To Marie, this is her entire life and she has to navigate it whether she books a reservation or not. Though the way she worked seemed so effortless to me, I can’t even begin to imagine the steps needed to get to that level.
If you take one thing away from this post, let it be this: Sight is a privilege. Travel is a privilege. Life is a privilege. Don’t let it pass you by.
- Roasted pumpkin with ras el hanout and zaatar spices
- Orange and rosemary marmalade
- Chard, ricotta, walnuts and burnt squash seeds
- Chickpea hummus, sesame and candied lemon
- Veal haunch cooked at low temperature
- Meat juice, mustard and honey
- Roasted cauliflower with curry
- Roasted buckwheat, sesame and quinoa
- Celery puree and romanesco cabbage tops
- Black radish, soy and rice vinegar chutney
- Caramelized pineapple, rum, ginger, and sage
- Light vanilla cream
- Hazelnut cookie, dark chocolate with fleur de sel and buckwheat
My Favorite Wine
Gewurtztraminer Domaine de la Tour blanche 2018– On the palate, you can taste rose, exotic fruits, lychee, accompanied by sweet spices. The mouth is slightly mellow without ever falling into heaviness.
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