2002.09.18 It's OK to spill a little

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about walking along Bean Creek in the dark. A couple of days after that I heard about a new restaurant in Germany where everyone eats in the dark.

I suppose Brad Whitehouse and I could try a midnight picnic along the Bean the next time, but until then, I’ll have to rely on this restaurant report.

Actually, I could find very little about the new German restaurant, but I did read some reports on its predecessor, Blindekuh, that opened three years ago in Zurich, Switzerland.

When I wrote about our walk in the dark without a flashlight, I used that old line about how your other senses take over when sight is gone. It’s true. You start to hear things that would otherwise have been ignored. You pay much more attention to the ground underfoot. You notice the smells of the plants brushing your face.

I didn’t mention anything about heightened taste—no bugs flew into my mouth that night—but that’s one of the concepts behind Zurich’s restaurant, The Blind Cow.

An abandoned church was converted into a restaurant. It’s pitch black inside and most of the staff members are blind. You might think this is one of those gimmicks that isn’t going to work, but you would be quite wrong. I’m not sure how things are going today, but a while back they had a waiting list of four months.

The facility is owned by the Blindlicht Foundation which aims to provide jobs for blind people. The receptionist and most of the kitchen staff have good vision. Everyone else is blind.

Diners are first led into a dimly lit area to adjust for what’s to come. Some people find it too claustrophobic and head out then for another eatery. Guests are instructed not to wander off from tables. Instead, just shout out to a member of the wait staff. You can identify them by the bells jingling from their feet.

Eventually a waitress arrives and instructs one member of the party to place his or her hands on her shoulders. The others in the group do the same to form a train. The waitress then leads the eaters through black curtains into the void.

It’s not merely dark, a reporter wrote in a British newspaper, it’s entirely devoid of light. That’s an important distinction, he says, because usually there’s some shadowy shapes that can be made out. Here there’s absolutely nothing.

Table talk is strained, also, he said, because there’s no body language or eye contact to help out conversation. It no longer matters what you’re wearing, says the man who started the restaurant, it’s just your voice that makes you “visible.” If you don’t talk, he says, you don’t exist.

The menu is fairly simple—no peas or spaghetti, I presume—and eating is messy. One reviewer said that his borscht went well, but most of his dumplings ended up on the table and some of his vegetable went to the floor. Perfect for the kid who hates broccoli.

So is the concept a success? The originators of the idea claim that eating blind makes a person think more about food. You eat more slowly, you sniff the food, you touch it and really savor it.

The reviewer said he didn’t have that experience. It was just a lot sloppier to eat in the dark.

I’ve heard it said that as the gimmicks increase, the quality of the food decreases.

I don’t know if that’s the case at the Blind Cow, but I know what I would like about this place. It’s licking. I would certainly lick my plate after each course and no one would say a word about it.

    – Sept. 18, 2002 
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