I‘ve been fortunate to have eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world (El Bulli, Noma) but I’ve never been to a restaurant where the dining room is pitch black. And I’ve been to an entirely dark experiential museum in Hong Kong. But tonight — tonight — I am dining in the dark.
DINING IN THE DARK AT UNSICHT-BAR, BERLIN
The bar at unsicht-Bar is nearly empty. The host greets me enthusiastically, escorts me to a table and asks if I’d like a drink.
He hands me the menu. My choices: veal, poultry, fish, lamb, vegetarian, or surprise. The dish descriptions are writted in riddles so I have no idea I’m in for.
I’ve come this far; I might as go all the way.
“I’ll take the surprise.”
Harry, my server, comes into the bar to greet me and escort me to my table. He is sight-impaired. I stand behind him, place my hand on his shoulder, and follow him into the pitch-black dining room, as instructed. I’m grinning like an idiot out of nervousness, but that’s ok: it’s not like anyone can see me. Harry pulls out my chair and deposits me at my table.
The couple seated to my left overhear my exchange with Harry and introduce themselves: they are Folker and Ingrid, a married German couple visiting Berlin for the weekend. Ingrid is on the first course of the poultry menu and Folker has just begun the salad course of the suprise menu.
My salad arrives, Folker and I compare notes. We agree upon watercress, spiral-cut cucumbers, carrots, and lettuce. I reach into my purse, pat around for my cherished (humidty-proof) Swiss Spice Salt + Pepper shaker, and season with abandon. Crystals fly. No need for manners when you’re dining in the dark.
“I’m eating with my fingers,” Folker confesses. A lot of people are eating with their fingers. I know because I can hear them licking their digits like they’re starring in a KFC commercial. I don’t believe that dining in the dark has rendered my sense of taste any more acute, but I can hear like Superman. The slightest noise registers: servers snapping as they turn corners (to alert each other), 360 degrees of German banter (which is frustrating: not only am I deprived of people-watching here, but I’m unable to eavesdrop either), and a nose-blowing episode of disgusting/impressive strength and duration.
Folker and Ingrid talk in German, and then switch to English, my cue to join in. We chat for nearly two hours, good-naturedly comparing/contrasting and attacking/defending each other’s country and culture. I’m aware that, at times I become so engrossed in our conversation that I forget that I can’t see a damn thing. Folker states that public nose-blowing is an “American Thing” and I counter that I’m the only person in the dining room speaking English. He charges me/us of being addicted to ice (I am) and asks if I own an ice crusher (I do). They both want to know if I’m wearing socks with sandals. I tell them I’m not taking any more of this crap from the people who invented lederhosen. We call it a draw.
Folker, Ingrid, and I finish our dessert simultaneously and agree to meet in the bar for a drink/coffee.
DINING IN THE DARK TO DRINKING IN THE LIGHT
And…..they look like normal, thirty-something-year-old people! I request a copy of the actual menu in English from our server, remove the page from the jacket, fold it, and place it in my purse.
“That is SO American!” accuses Folker, who thinks Yanks are prone to petty theft.
Folker and Ingrid treat me to a digestif, we talk awhile, and part with smiles and waves.