August 14, 2012
Two Eater editors declared their meal at New York’s Dans Le Noir the worst experience they’ve ever had in a restaurant. It wasn’t the touchy-feely service or the culturally-confused food, it was the lighting. Rather, it was the complete and utter lack of lighting. Part of an international chain, Dans Le Noir treats diners to a pitch black meal after leading them to their seats. Meant to emphasize and heighten the sense of taste, the concept left the two editors a little cold.
Located in the “armpit of Midtown,” just off Times Square, the restaurant seemed to have several strikes against it before the meal even began. As a gimmick, dining in the dark proved less than entertaining and the editors described themselves being in a state of near panic the entire time.
At first, the restaurant seems a clear case of conning New Yorkers into paying for an experience no one in their right mind would pay for. But the chain was actually founded with help from the Paul Guinot Foundation for Blind People as a way to raise awareness about what a simple meal out can be like. Perhaps the point of the review shouldn’t be how awful this restaurant is, but how awful most dining experiences around Times Square are. Noisy, crowded and uncomfortable, these are things we put up with in many other locations.
Writing for the Washington Post, Melanie D.G. Kaplan described dining at San Francisco’s Opaque with a friend who had been injured in Iraq and lost his vision. “He wanted friends to appreciate how hard it was for him to eat,” writes Kaplan. Hard indeed. Kaplan describes struggling to keep track of dish descriptions when the waiter rattled off ingredients. Fortunately, her friend was able to give her tips on how to manage a table in the dark: “run your fingers across the edge of the table to find things instead of knocking over water glasses en route to the butter.
No doubt the editors of Eater had a horrendous time. Midtown Manhattan compounded with the sudden loss of sight would be enough to induce a panic attack in even the steadiest of souls.
But done right, the experience can serve the dual purpose of showing what is lost and what is gained without sight. Dark restaurants now dot the globe. Organizations including the Foundation Fighting Blindness host dark dinners to raise money.
The ultimate conclusion? Don’t pay $100 to eat around Times Square. Just don’t.
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