Have you ever wondered what life would be like if you were missing one of your five senses?
My husband, Howard, and I had that opportunity recently while vacationing in Santa Monica, Calif.
When I perused information on local restaurants, I came across an ad for the Opaque — Dining in the Dark restaurant, 2020 Wilshire. That address had to have been deliberately chosen.
This theme of dining in total darkness and being served by visually impaired waitstaff had its origins in Munich, Germany, where the concept is so wildly popular that the restaurant there is typically booked for months in advance.
Fortunately, we were able to get in the Santa Monica version on only two days’ notice.
I felt a sense of what was coming as we arrived at the black-painted building. Inside the lights were dim, but I was able to notice that the walls were black, and the floor and ceiling were a dark gray.
Lighting was minimal; there were candles burning in red globes, and my overall impression was that we weren’t going to be seeing much.
Our hostess greeted us with menus featuring multiple choices in the categories of salad, entree and dessert.
After we made our selections, we were introduced to our blind waiter, Raphael, who had come out of the curtained darkroom.
He then turned his back to me; I was instructed to put my right hand on his right shoulder; Howard put his right hand on my shoulder, and our little caravan marched into the curtained room. That was the last I saw of the light for quite awhile.
We first went through a short maze, turning left, then right, then left again, before being led to our table.
I presume the maze was there to prevent any light leakage coming through the curtained doorway from the outer area. It was absolutely pitch black.
If you have ever been on one of those cave tours where they turn off the lights and the darkness is almost palpable, it was like that.
I was glad that we were seated by ourselves and not with a group; if someone had fondled my knee, I wouldn’t know who to slap.
We did hear other diners in the room but couldn’t see them, and soft techno-style music played in the background.
I found myself distracted by the lighted numerals on Howard’s glow-in-the-dark watch, so eventually he turned it around on his wrist.
We were seated, and Raphael explained how he would be bringing in the courses and setting them in the center of the table.
He brought us a basket of bread, and just as he predicted, I found the butter tub by sticking my fingers in it.
My wineglass got mysteriously knocked over, so Raphael kindly brought me another one.
When I picked up my water glass, I immediately drizzled it down the front of my dress, having lost visual orientation, so I quickly learned to touch it to my lips first before tipping it up.
Also, I placed my wineglass and water glass so that they were touching to make it easier to find both of them.
The salads were Greek style, with feta cheese. I found myself occasionally stabbing into nothing, and the little bits of feta were hard to locate.
The Veggie Napoleon was next. Sometimes my fork would come up empty, so I met that challenge by using my other hand to gradually turn the plate around while using my fork to pile up the food and attack it from the side.
We had some fun trying to guess what we were eating — hmm, this must be bell peppers, zucchini, perhaps some mushrooms; but oh my, what is this marvelous, smoky flavored squishy vegetable? The flavor was maddeningly familiar.
It is said that when one is blind, the remaining senses become enhanced to compensate, and this seemed to be absolutely true.
All of the dishes were simply wonderful, as we were able to fully focus on the flavor without the usual distractions.
My dessert was mango slices in a sweet creamy sauce, and Howard’s was a gooey chocolate volcano cake.
It was adventurous trying to exchange samples across the table in the darkness.
We just had to know what that mystery vegetable was, so we asked Raphael about it. He said it was probably eggplant.
Oh, no! Eggplant is something we vigorously avoid, having had unpleasant experiences with it decades ago.
It just does not like us. Had I known about it, I probably would have made another selection.
This is the kind of thing that can happen when you can’t see what you are eating.
During the taxi ride back to the hotel, my stomach began to suspect it had been deceived somehow, and started trying to get my attention like a petulant child.
I refused to acknowledge it, distracting myself by staring into shop windows to override the sensations I was feeling. Let’s just say that I dealt with the consequences the next day.
This experience got me to ponder over living minus a sense or two. I recalled my unsighted friend Marian Wilson, the keyboard player, singer and composer of music, back at the church I attended in Michigan. How she knew where all those keys were was beyond me, but she did.
I recalled the week or so I spent mostly deaf as a side effect of a viral infection a few years ago, and how surreal life seemed, like being in a television show with the mute button on.
You see people and objects moving, you know there is noise going on through the intercoms, but everything is utterly silent.
I have known two people who had no sense of smell; that had to have compromised their sense of taste, too.
How often do we consider the richness of living through the physical senses, and feel gratitude? Which sense would you be willing to live without?
And the memory of that gloriously smoky flavored eggplant haunts me to this day.