The unidentifiable object tasted oh-so familiar. I chewed slowly and deliberately, squinting to help zero-in on the flavor. Then, totally exasperated, I shook my head and flopped back in my seat. But I was sitting in a pitch-black dining room and nobody could see the body language of my torment. So I sighed. Loudly.
"I don't even know if it's a fruit or a vegetable or meat," I said to my blind friend, Travis. "It could be anything."
We were sitting in San Francisco's Opaque restaurant, a dining-in-the-dark concept modeled after similar eateries in Europe. The servers are blind or vision-impaired, and the patrons, mostly sighted, dine there for the novelty of eating without seeing.
About the restaurant
Opaque is on an unassuming block in the city's Hayes Valley neighborhood, in the basement of another restaurant. It has sister locations in Los Angeles, San Diego and Dallas.
At the top of the stairs, we checked in with the hostess and she handed us prix-fixe menus, from which we selected our appetizers, entrees and desserts.
Our server, Courtney, arrived and we made a train -- hands on shoulders -- to follow her into the black. She steered us around poles and door jambs and into our U-shaped booth.
"We ready to get started?" I heard Courtney's voice on my right. "When I hand you something or you hand me something, our hands will meet on the corner of the table," she said. "So now I'm going to hand you each a glass of ice water. Go ahead and place it wherever is convenient for you."
Then came second glasses and an amuse-bouche -- a cucumber slice with smoked salmon and wasabi aioli, compliments of the fully sighted chef -- and the bread basket with a butter ramekin that I held in my lap so I wouldn't lose it. By the time Courtney was finished describing all these items, I felt completely lost and my short-term memory had failed me. Half-listening, I realized, wouldn't get me very far at Opaque.
Surprises by the forkful
Courtney brought our starters, a baby green salad for me and ahi tuna for Travis. The first thing I stabbed was the chunky piece that would drive me mad with its mystery. The rest of the meal was less frustrating. There was a lot of touching of food and plenty of laughing every time the fork arrived at my mouth. Either it was empty or the piece I'd cut was so big it hit my nose. I remember enjoying the food, but the flavors were somewhat lost to the celebration of triumphant self-feeding.
After dessert, Courtney led us back to the light. After 2 1/2 hours without my sight, I felt faintly dizzy and queasy. We paid the hostess and I picked up a brochure on our way out. "Not just a meal," it read, "but a truly unique, sensual experience." I didn't know about sensual, but I was certain I still had some aioli on my cheek and chocolate on my fingers.
IF YOU GO
689 McAllister St., San Francisco, 800-710-1270, darkdining.com
Open for dinner Wednesday-Saturday from 6:30 p.m. Three-course prix-fixe menu $79 a person on Wednesdays and Thursdays through September, $99 every other day.