Sarah Porter, a speech language pathologist in Fort Lauderdale, was hoping for a special celebration for her 29th birthday.
When a friend suggested “dark dining” at Market 17 restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, she couldn’t resist.
“I was looking for something new to do for my birthday,” says Porter. “I’m expecting to heighten my senses, such as touch, taste and smell — everything that you don’t experience when you’re eating and looking at your food. My friends got me an apron as a joke because of how much of a mess they think I’m going to be.”
Market 17 has been offering its customers the opportunity to dine in the dark since it opened its doors last fall.
Aaron Grauberger, 31, who co-owns the restaurant with his sister, Kirsta, 35, says eating in the dark forces diners to use their remaining senses to enhance what would otherwise be an ordinary dinner.
“It’s a lot of fun to try to figure out what you’re eating,” says Grauberger. “It’s a blind tasting.”
At restaurants across the country, guests are donning blindfolds or sitting in pitch-dark rooms while being served what amounts to a mystery meal.
Jeff Neufeld, 34, who was experiencing dark dining for the first time at Market 17, says he was impressed with the quality of the food.
“I ended up eating not only the main portion of the plate but also the garnish as well,” Neufeld says. “Everything on your plate is going in your mouth because you want to know what it is.”
The restaurant uses only organic produce and hormone-free meats, mostly from local farms.
“Our proteins are humanely treated while they’re alive,” says Grauberger. “They have great lives, open pastures, and the pigs can wallow in the mud all day and be pigs. That really carries over into the quality of the food.”
Only one room in the restaurant caters to dining in the dark. Reservations, which can be made seven nights a week, are limited to one party at a time and a maximum of three seatings nightly.
Parties of up to 14 people dine in a pitch-black room where they can enjoy anywhere from four to 17 courses in darkness, relying on their remaining senses to figure out what they are eating.
Servers, who must be specially trained to know exactly what they are serving and how each dish was prepared, wear night vision glasses to see what they are doing and help out customers who may need some guidance throughout the course of the meal.
Bryan Taylor, 26, has been working in the dark dining room since the restaurant’s opening.
He bustles through the restaurant carrying a tray full of beautifully prepared portions of grass-fed rib-eye, parmesan potato mash, sauteed Brussels sprouts and roasted heirloom carrots, a small masterpiece created by chef Daniel Ramos.
Taylor said he likes working the dark dining room because of the daily change of menu offerings, clientele and experiences.
“It’s pretty cool to stay up with the challenge of doing something new on a daily basis,” Taylor says.
Dishes served are based on suggestions to the chef. They also inform him of food allergies. This way, diners don’t start the meal with any preconceived notions of what they’re about to eat. At the end of every course, customers guess what they just ate.