Dinner in the Dark at Camaje

There is a restaurant in London that I heard about a long time ago (likely through one of the Monocle podcasts I listen to) that literally serves dinner in the dark. It’s appropriately named Dans Le Noir and is actually staffed by the visually impaired. Within this restaurant, they seamlessly serve a ‘normal’ dinner while the patrons are introduced to their world.

Last time I was in London I unfortunately didn’t get to go to this and I’ve been searching for a similar experience in NYC. I finally found Camaje, which does their own dinner in the dark, albeit a bit differently. Rather than diners being led into pitch black darkness, they are instead blindfolded. Curious, I bought tickets and was not disappointed.

My friend and I arrived a few minutes before 7, where there was a sign posted in the door that essentially says “Don’t come in just yet. We’ll come out and get you at 7pm”. At 7pm on the dot, we were personally greeted by our chef, Abigail Hitchcock – a Long Island native with a true passion for food.

She then handed us our blindfolds. It’s not a paper-thin blindfold either. These are cushioned ones that really do an excellent job of blocking out all light.

We then formed something of a Congo line outside the place once we all had our blindfolds on and shuffled inside.

We were all a bit disoriented getting to our seats – understandably so – but soon enough I ended up in a booth seat and my friend in her chair. A couple next to us were speaking French, which sounded lovely with the blindfold on.

The first part of the experience was an auditory delight – we were each given something in a plate and told that we could pick up the food but not eat it just yet. I heard the clink of a small plate hit the table in front of me and gingerly picked up a piece of what turned out to be toasted garlic bread. We were then instructed to, on the count of three, take a bite of the bread. The next round, the guys were to do the same. On ‘3’, a unanimous crunch filled the room. You could really hear the texture of the bread.

As Abigail guided us through the next few courses (my favorite being the goat cheese salad), I couldn’t help but notice that her voice was made for NPR. As if to confirm that, she then read us Ode to the Onion by Pablo Neruda:

Onion,
luminous flask,
your beauty formed
petal by petal,
crystal scales expanded you
and in the secrecy of the dark earth
your belly grew round with dew.
Under the earth
the miracle
happened
and when your clumsy
green stem appeared,
and your leaves were born
like swords
in the garden,
the earth heaped up her power
showing your naked transparency,
and as the remote sea
in lifting the breasts of Aphrodite
duplicating the magnolia,
so did the earth
make you,
onion
clear as a planet
and destined
to shine,
constant constellation,
round rose of water,
upon
the table
of the poor.

You make us cry without hurting us.
I have praised everything that exists,
but to me, onion, you are
more beautiful than a bird
of dazzling feathers,
heavenly globe, platinum goblet,
unmoving dance
of the snowy anemone

and the fragrance of the earth lives
in your crystalline nature.

As you can see, it was really the best poem anyone could have chosen for this experience. As a writer myself, I’m tempted to see if I could come up with something even half as decent about an household vegetable.

For the remainder of the meal, I managed to keep it all on my plate and still keep my habit of turning over spoons and forks to the side of the plate once I finished each course. I will say that the entree (richly spiced pork that we initially thought was lamb) was a bit difficult to eat blindfolded, but it was worth it. I loved the bed of grits (or at least what I thought were grits) that the pork rested on.

I surprised to find that it seemed like the kitchen was still taking presentation into consideration. The way the goat cheese rested on top of my salad was as if it had been arranged, which was a real treat.

Dessert was served in the form of a chocolate-covered spoon (my friend and I did wish there had been more chocolate on it) followed by a caramel brownie ice cream sundae that was absolutely delicious. By then, the darkness had become normal and what was really refreshing was that, since we all couldn’t look at our phones, we really focused on either our conversation or listening to the ones around us. Or, of course, paying attention to our food.

Then, after dessert, came time for the reveal. I had thought initially that we were going to be led out of the restaurant in the same Congo line formation that we had done coming in, but after a short karaoke session to some 90s classics, we were allowed to take off our blindfolds and properly see our surroundings.

This had the biggest effect on me. Being led in somewhere without seeing how you travelled there has a strange teleportation effect on you. Plus, my friend and I had drastically different ideas of the space compared to how it actually was. I had thought that the door was much further away and that we were seated against the window (my back being towards the window). I also thought there was a bar to my right and that people were seated at the bar. Nope. We were all seated quite close to each other at tables with enough space to sidestep between them. The bar was on the right hand side of the room and no one was seated there. There was also a larger group than I had imagined (I had guessed 10 people but it seemed closer to 30). I really was shocked at how I had envisioned my own layout.

We spoke to one of the waiters at the end, who admitted with a slight laugh that we were struggling with the entree a little. Still, I would gladly go back for a fresh round of courses and perhaps seating in a new environment so we could experience it all again.