A French restaurant group that offers pitch-dark dining is preparing to open New York City’s first blind eatery.
Eat with your eyes? Not at Dans le Noir?, French for “In the Dark?” At the existing restaurants in Paris, London, Barcelona and Moscow, diners are guided to a table where they can’t see their hands in front of their faces and are served by blind waiters.
“It’s an experience more than a restaurant,” said Celine Djezvedjian, project manager for the New York outpost.
The restaurant group is scouting two Manhattan locations, one in midtown and one on the Lower East Side. “We are waiting to meet with the landlords,” Djezvedjian said recently. “We want to have an answer before the end of the month.” The restaurant will open either by the end of the year or in early 2011, depending on which site is chosen, Djezvedjian said.
Djezvedjian said New York is a good fit for the chain “because people are curious and like to experience different things.” She said diners will arrive at the restaurant at the precise time they have reserved and wait in a lighted lounge where staff members will explain the restaurant’s concept.
Then they will enter the dark dining room in a conga line, hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them. They will be served a “surprise” menu that takes stated preferences and allergies into account.
“Part of the game is to guess what’s on the plate,” Djezvedjian said.
“When people come out we ask what they think they ate. They are usually very wrong.” All of the waiters will be blind. “They are much more able to work in the dark,” Djezvedjian said.
That feature has picqued the interest of organizations that work to empower the visually impaired.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity, since the unemployment rate of people who are blind is so high,” said Nancy D. Miller, chief executive of the New York-based Visions/Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Mark G. Ackermann, chief executive of Lighthouse International, said Dans le Noir? will be good news for his clients. “We have placed many people in regular restaurants, and we expect to place them at this restaurant,” he said.
Ackermann said he would encourage New Yorkers to visit Dans le Noir? when it opens. “I think the experience of smell and taste etc., will be heightened,” he said.
Andrew Knowlton, the restaurant critic at Bon Appetit magazine and a frequent judge on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America,” won’t be first in line.
“I think it’s absurd,” Knowlton said. “Any time there’s a gimmick involved with eating in a restaurant I have to be a little bit wary.”
Knowlton compared Dans Le Noir? to Ninja New York, a theme restaurant where Ninja-dressed waiters jump out and scare you.
“Is it fun? I guess it’s fun,” he said. “It’s just not for me.”