"You can go ahead and use your knife for this course," my unfoundedly optimistic server said as I sat blindfolded with my dinner plate before me.
I felt around on the table until I located the handle of a utensil, and ran my finger along the little bumps of serrated metal to be sure it was the right sharp object. I then struck empty spots on my plate several times until I gave in and used my hands to feel for the entree. I touched something mushy, and found a hunk of something to its left. I brought over the knife and sawed off a hunk of meat without cutting myself. Success! Or was it?
Feats like this are just your average night at Dining in the Dark, a weekly dinner hosted by Fever, a European events company that's edging into the U.S. by taking over dormant venues to hold candlelight concerts, food festivals and murder mystery nights, among other activities. Since coming to Minneapolis in June, Dining in the Dark is Fever's signature event here.
The idea isn't new — dark dinners are a time-tested gimmick, the idea that without the sense of sight, other senses will kick into overdrive and transform the way we taste our food.
Fever launched the dinners last year in the U.K. before bringing them to 13 cities in the states. "It was a terrible time to try to do anything in person," said Sumner Rogers, Dining in the Dark's U.S. project manager. "We needed to be able to have an event where people would stay where we put them, wouldn't interact with other guests and also have a good time."
Tables placed far apart from one another served the dual purpose of social distancing and preventing guests from overhearing conversations about the food before they'd had a chance to taste it.
I'd heard about similar dinners, where the lights were cut completely and servers wore night-vision goggles. So, I was surprised that the lights were dim, but not pitch black in the lower level of the Minneapolis Events Centers in St. Anthony Main. It was bright enough to see room-length rows of tables filling the blank canvas of a space, all exposed brick, beams and creaky wood floors. There were at least 100 diners there, mostly parties of two.
My dining companion and I were brought to our table, where we each found a silky blindfold, red on one side and black on the other, folded among our place settings.
Our server explained the deal: three courses, each served with a riddle or clue. After tasting, we were welcome to remove the blindfold. Even then, if we couldn't place certain elements of our dishes (the sauces could be puzzling), the server would identify it for us before bringing the next course.
Fever chose this format because it could easily scale the events to be even larger, Rogers said. "The real draw is the mystery behind what you're eating," he said. "You don't know, but you still have that play of fun. 'What is it? I can't put my finger on it.' "
Plus, "If you think eating in the dark is hard, try working in it."
One unintended benefit to blindfolded dining? You don't have to endure everyone taking pictures of their food. (Trust me, I tried. The results were horrendously blurry.)
I won't tell you what was served in order to keep the mystery alive, other than that it's your standard upscale wedding fare supplied by the venue's in-house caterer. For Fever's first dip into Minneapolis, the company had to "walk the middle of the road" by pleasing the most palates, Rogers explained.
"At first, we have to have it make sense to get the concept across to people," he said. "Once we have our footing and understanding of the city, we have the chance to branch off to something more specific." The goal is to offer more dark dinners in smaller restaurants, where the cuisine or the chef will be the draw.
For now, don't expect anything too challenging — other than the need to use cutlery without seeing where to put it.
"I'm using my fingers more than my fork," my companion said at one point during the entree, as she struggled to pierce her side dish. "I'm a toddler right now."
For me, hacking away at that meat was at once hilarious and a bit dangerous. Then again, dining out has come with a whiff of danger for the past year and a half. With that in mind, it occurred to me that after missing so many restaurant meals for so long, if I'm making the effort to go out to dinner, I would really like to see it.
If you go
Dining in the Dark tickets are $80 each and include a three-course dinner. Drinks can be purchased separately. There are two seatings each Wednesday, at 6 and 8:30 p.m., with dates currently posted through September. For more info and tickets, go to feverup.com.