Saturday, October 29, 2005

Dunkel Restaurant, Berlin

No, this isn't a photo error.  This is exactly what I saw at Dunkel Restaurant too.

No, that’s not an error in the photo; that’s what our food looked like. This restaurant, literally translated, is the “dark restaurant,” meaning that you eat your food in complete darkness and are served by blind waiters (Gormannstrasse 14, +49-30-243425-00). There is not a single light in the dining room, which creates a rather disorienting experience, both food-wise as well as socially. There are some really interesting implications as a result:

(1) You obviously can’t see the food, so you really have to rely on your taste buds here. In fact, you first order your selection outside in the (lit) reception before proceeding inside to the dark room. The menu that you get at first is intentionally written vaguely with more reference to the senses rather than the specific ingredients themselves (e.g., "cheesy, not corny soup"). Only after you finish your meal and come back outside do you get access to a menu that clearly states what you ate (and if you're a fussy eater who doesn't like many ingredients, then you may run into some surprises if you can't see it).

(2) You obviously also can’t see your dining companions either, which makes for some interesting dining conversations since you don’t really have any visual cues or body language to ride off of (in retrospect, I guess that’s not unlike being on a conference call for work). Still, most of the conversation of course initially centered around “How the heck do we do this? Do the waiters have night vision goggles or something??” (no, they are blind and are accustomed to using their other senses). You could hear plenty of loud laughter from the other tables. Anonymity also encouraged misfits to occasionally try to influence the entire room of diners, like whispering “shhhhhh!!!!” (and everyone interestingly obeyed and quieted down), or singing happy birthday (and everyone screamed off the top of their lungs). Obviously no one would do such things if the room were lit.

(3) This also creates logistical challenges. Your waiter leads you to your table, and you grab on to your dining companions’ shoulder in front of you to create a chain of people. You have no idea what the orientation of the room is like, so you start to wonder where the other tables are, how high the ceiling is, etc. (I kept looking up, hoping to find artificial stars above like they do at the Pirates of the Carribean ride at Disneyland, but to no avail.) Passing the bread basket from one person to the next is obviously a bit strange, considering that you can’t see how high he/she is holding the basket above the table (the same applies for making a toast and trying to make the glasses meet). Even finding your utensils and then trying to use them to get your food off the plates is difficult - the waiters tend to say things like, "Your water is at 2 o'clock" (fortunately, darkness also allows you to do things like bring the entire plate up to your face and shovel food in your mouth, since no one can see how rude that is). Scraping with your utensils is sometimes needed in order to figure out where your remaining food is on the plate, and wine is served in brandy glasses rather than the potentially catastrophic stemware. You could hear quite a few spills going on at other tables (I wonder how the busboys clean it up?). And I doubt this would work in the US where fire marshals require Exit signs to be clearly lit (there is not a single light in the room here – no exit signs…nothing!).

So how was the food then? Honestly, it was a mixed bag. I ordered the "River and Sea" meal; it started with a nicoise salad, which is just canned tuna sitting on top of lettuce, tomatoes, olive oil, and hard boiled eggs (yawn). The soup got better as I smelled a very strong cheese aroma (it turned out to be goat cheese), but then the fish in the soup was also very pungent – too pungent, in fact. The main course was some sort of fish with mushrooms, shrimp, and some kind of orzo-like pasta/rice. This was tasty, but at this point I could barely eat anymore as the portions were simply too huge. Finally, we had a fig, raspberry, and chocolate dessert to close off the meal (originally billed as "boozed Oriental fruit on reddish sweetness"). The seeds in the fig were a bit of a challenge to manipulate in the dark, so I just swallowed them.

Would I come here again? Not really. The food, while not horrendous, wasn’t exceptional either. Is it more for the novelty of eating in the dark? I suppose. It makes you really appreciate what the blind community has to go through, and it’s amazing that our waiter could pour wine, etc, in the dark. As well, it of course tests your taste buds’ ability to sense what you are eating. (A great thing for the restaurant is that they obviously don’t need to worry about presentation – nor room decorations – and I suppose their electricity bill isn’t very high either.) Don’t expect to come here for a quick meal though. Apparently the average meal takes more than two hours to serve, but ours took a whopping four hours. By the end of the meal, most of us felt disoriented enough to get antsy and want to leave. Still, it was good to come to, and it was definitely a very unique experience that I won’t forget. Sure, I suppose you could try this at home by eating in your closet, but it’s not the same thing when you don’t have other diners, impressively skilled blind waiters, and mystery dishes in the experience.


Anonymous said...

hmmm... could it be the waiters wore night vision goggles there? ;)

hanka said...

I really enjoyed this place, although it was without AC so it was very hot.
The food was delicious, but if you ate macaroni and cheese, pizza and all that crap all your life you may not like it. Experience was amazing. Worth to try.