I usually hate gimmicky restaurants. Garlic ice cream at The Stinking Rose: Meh. Eating a bird with my fingers at Medieval Times: No, thanks. Dining in the dark: Maybe. Blind servers bring you food in a completely dark restaurant in order to heighten the receptivity of your other senses... better hearing, better touching, better tasting. A gimmick with a purpose: Intriguing.
I heard about it a year ago but scoffed at the prices. $100 for a three-course prix fixe seemed a little crazy, even for LA. But... the Groupon machine reeled me in. Marketing Trickery! Bah! They offered up a two-for-one deal that my frugal brain could rationalize. So, I called up my trusty dinner companion and went for it.
We walked into a weird empty bar that ached of loneliness like most empty bars usually do. The entrance to Opaque hid in the back, a tiny hostess at a podium the only clue. She sat us in a booth veiled in hanging beads and gave us a menu, a menu that robbed the restaurant of its credibility. I immediately spotted a grammatical error in the first paragraph. They meant to write 'as' but added an extra 's.' Come on! Who doesn't spot an 'ass' in their menu?
Letting it go (because that's what I'm trying to do these days), we happily ordered our salad, entree, and dessert right there plus a glass of wine each. We then bid adieu to grammatical errors as Margarita, our server clad in all black and a pair of goggles, guided us through the darkness. I felt like I was entering a haunted house.
As soon as we sat down, I wanted to leave. The room was dark. Really dark -- nary a crack of light from any tiny corner or doorway. Nothing. You can see nothing. My first thought: cockroaches! I have an unnatural fear of any bug that can survive a nuclear holocaust, and it killed me to not be able to flick on the light for a quick second to just check. I felt panic rising, and I wanted to jet out of there. But not only could I not run away in the dark, I wasn't about to waste my Groupon.
The restaurant ran just like any normal one. Several people dined around us, but we had no idea where they were. Very quickly we realized that our other senses did hop into overdrive. I was aware of all the other voices and especially the music. It was upbeat house music, but I really thought a blind pianist would have rounded out the theme nicely.
The food was almost laughable. I am a vegetarian, and the one option for my kind was a plate of rigatoni in red sauce -- it tasted just like my mom used to make by tossing boxed noodles with a jar of Ragu. For $100. Ha! I'm actually angry at the owner for getting away with this. If your sense of taste is heightened at this place, I don't understand why they don't place more importance on the things you're tasting. The salads and the desserts were better, and we ate most of them with our bare hands. Salad is just too elusive to eat with a fork in the dark.
Ironically, the darkness was eye-opening. I noticed I was acting differently knowing nobody was watching. I slouched and sat with my forehead on the table just because it was comfortable. It's very freeing to feel that nobody is judging you.
Margarita agreed. A bubbly little woman, she boisterously announced where she was putting our drinks and our plates and how she was pouring our water. Blind for 12 years, she said she loves working in the dark because there she feels she can truly be herself. Under normal circumstances, she's hindered by all the eyes on her, watching to make sure she can step onto the bus or cross the street alone. There, in the dark, she can zip around and do anything, wrong or right, and nobody will know.
The darkness was also sexy. To truly take advantage of it, I only recommend visiting Opaque if you are interested in your dining partner (or if you like his personality but think he's ugly). In order to share food, you have to use your hands to scoop a good bite onto the fork, reach out to feel his beard, outline his lips, and then actually feed him. It can get pretty erotic. I stopped at the beard petting, but I imagine some people get all 9½ Weeks up in there.
Overall, I recommend the experience for a special occasion or a sexy date. Not a first date. Nobody is worth $250 on a first date. On the other hand, this is LA; I'm sure many girls are whisked away on private jets on first dates. Not me. But that's ok. I have Groupons.
Total for two people: $150 ($250 without Groupon)
Opaque is at 2020 Wilshire Blvd in Santa Monica
Margarita, our lovely server.
The disappointing rigatoni.
Me trying to hide my scorn for grammatical errors in menus.