On a recent Friday evening, two Eater editors had a meal at Dans Le Noir, New York's first (and probably last) dining in the dark restaurant. What follows is a debriefing of their experiences in the dark dining room:
EaterAK: So now that you've had a night to sleep on it: Was this in fact the worst experience you've ever had in a restaurant?
EaterGM: After much thought and reflection, I can say that dinner at Dans Le Noir was the worst experience I've ever had in a restaurant. You?
EaterAK: Same. I'm sure I've had worse food, worse service, worse company, but I've never felt the same desperate need to flee.
EaterGM: Agreed. I'll just say that I've never come so close to having a panic attack in my entire life.
EaterAK: So let's back up start at the beginning. The location is Midtown, blocks away from Port Authority and Times Square. So you're already starting at a disadvantage. We arrive 20 minutes before our 8:30 reservation, as requested.
[The exterior of Dans Le Noir and the bar area]
EaterGM: Yup. How would you describe the bar area?
EaterAK: Actually, not bad. Spacious, mildly busy, fine background music, nice lighting.
EaterGM: Not the worst place to get a drink in the armpit of Midtown.
EaterAK: Some crowds of young people who must work in the neighborhood getting drinks.
EaterGM: Yeah, there was a table of hipsters that were clearly just drinking.
[The lockers, in the basement]
EaterAK: So we sign some waivers, lock up our belongings in a basement locker and wait around for the next 45 minutes, with no one offering us any drinks or telling us exactly when we're going to eat.
EaterGM: Nope. The waiver, by the way, was two sides of one piece of paper.
EaterAK: Yes, very intense, which I now understand. But going into the meal, what were you thinking?
EaterGM: I was thinking, "There are a lot of people going into the dining room."
EaterAK: Yes, it was pretty crowded!
EaterGM: "It must be cool, air conditioned, somewhat spacious in that dark room."
EaterAK: Which was surprising because when we tried to make a reservation for the Sunday jazz brunch, they told us we would be the only two people eating. But yes, Friday at 8:30 it was happening.
EaterGM: Going in I was curious, not afraid. I was excited, and thought it could be fun.
EaterAK: In my deepest moments of pessimism before this meal I figured we would have bad food and maybe a long meal. And I was most concerned with how awkward it would be to dine with strangers in the dark. But part of me thought, "Hey, maybe this will be surprising and we will like it."
EaterGM: Right, perhaps this is not a shitshow.
EaterAK: Maybe this is something special and we are cynical assholes for being so skeptical.
EaterGM: Clearly a lot of people know about this, and are paying cold hard cash to do this. So yes, we're lined up with our tablemates. How would you describe them? Why were they at Dans Le Noir?
EaterAK: A group of fun girls out for the night.
EaterGM: A lady date. So, they line us up before the door with our three tablemates.
EaterAK: Our server Maria tells us we are not allowed to move once in the dark room, and that it's very loud in there. No movement, and very dark, very loud.
EaterGM: Also, she said, "If you need anything — drinks, a fork, a napkin — ask me." And she also hyped up dessert. "You'll want to stay for dessert."
EaterAK: Ha. Then she led us in conga line style, so then we're inching through the dark room.
EaterAK: And our simultaneous PANIC ATTACKS begin.
EaterGM: PANIC ATTACK. When did the panic set in for you? Before you sat down?
EaterAK: Yes. But it really set in when I sat down and realized I wasn't going to moving for a long time, and I wasn't sure where you were or where the wall was.
EaterGM: No way. Oh my god. It was just pitch black. My muscles started to tense up, and I had trouble breathing.
EaterAK: I feel all of a sudden incredibly thirsty and nauseous. Breathing was hard.
EaterGM: You had a watch on, that had like a little glow in the dark surface, but someone asked you take it off.
EaterAK: I think our dialogue once you sat down was:
Me: Oh my god.
You: Oh my god.
Me: (laughing) Oh my god.
You: Oh my god.
And a lot of "This is horrible."
EaterGM: At one point, right after we sat down, I think I said: "You know, we can just leave before our appetizers come, and we don't have to go through this."
EaterAK: That is exactly what you said. And my thinking was "We have to at least make it through the appetizers, because maybe when we have food we'll feel better." That was not in fact the case but it was wishful thinking.
EaterGM: We talked about this several times during the hour and a half, but the only thing that got us through there was just blind faith that we weren't going to die.
EaterAK: I think it's funny that I was worried about making small talk with strangers before going in, because once we were in the dark room, all I could think of was getting out of there.
EaterGM: The only thing. So, the waitress comes over and explains that we'd have to pour water into glasses by sticking our fingers in the glasses.
EaterAK: Yes, and eventually we get water and bread, which made me feel slightly less panicked.
EaterGM: The bread sucked. It was like bread that you get at a bad wedding.
EaterAK: Yes, it was very hard and stale. But i just kept nibble bites off, to keep my mind off the terrifying darkness. I felt like i was on a bad drug trip.
EaterGM: Yes. Me too.
EaterAK: Because I was in a weird mental state and I knew I had no control over what was going to happen for the next hour. So, food arrives. You ordered the White "surprise" menu.
EaterGM: A mistake.
EaterAK: I ordered the Blue seafood menu.
EaterGM: How was your first course?
EaterAK: Not great, but okay enough that I ate it. There were too many fruity elements but it seemed fine enough. I thought it was lobster but I'm not sure it was. There were definitely a lot of elements on the plate, which is not a great idea when you just have to stab blindly at your plate with a fork. Yours was not as decent.
EaterGM: There was some kind of warm orb on my plate with a mushy top. I had lost my fork, so I was already eating with my hands. I guessed that it was like a big shrimp ball with uni on top. It was not pleasant. And fruit on the plate as well.
EaterAK: I should note that while we're eating we are sitting in this dark room, it's VERY loud and very stuffy.
EaterGM: Oh, extremely. Yes, like a subway car during rush hour.
EaterAK: And every ten minutes or so one of the waiters yells for everyone to be quiet, and then it revs up again. Our waitress explained that it's due to the fact that you don't know how close you are to people so you just yell. I noticed my throat hurt afterwards.
EaterGM: Ha yeah, we were screaming at each other the entire time. "WHAT DOES YOUR FOOD TASTE LIke?" "I HATE THIS AMANDA." "IT"S HORRIBLE." "I HATE THIS SO MUCH."
EaterGM: And behind you, there was a table of 11 guys that were getting tanked in the dark dining room.
EaterAK: Yes, there was a birthday party there, which I am having a hard time understanding.
EaterAK: The one good thing, and thank god for this, is the food came quickly. We had three courses in a little over an hour.
EaterGM: So as to prevent hysteria from setting in.
EaterAK: I don't know if it's worth going into, but the second course was not good. There was all kinds of random fish and couscous and fruity elements. Some of mine was flavored with lavender.
EaterGM: I had some weird, saliney fish thing, and a super salty thing that tasted like souvlaki. It was just not what you want to blindly bite into.
EaterAK: And our sparkling dinner conversation had this edge of desperation to it.
EaterAK: Like, "Oh do you want to hear a story?" "Please anything to distract me."
EaterGM: At one point, it reminded me of solitary confinement.
EaterAK: Yes, we talked a little too much about solitary confinement during that dinner.
EaterGM: Also, there were cocktails in the dark dining room. Mine came 20 minutes after I ordered it. Yours came 15 minutes after that.
EaterAK: One thing that made me laugh was when you told me that the entire time you were just sitting with your head in your hands, which I was doing a lot of the time as well.
EaterGM: Hunched over, head in hands, rubbing my forehead.
EaterAK: I either had my head in my hands or I was waving my hands in front of my face wildly.
EaterAK: I'm pretty sure they watch the dining room on a camera, so that must have been amusing to them. Though I'm sure it's par for the course, half the dining room shriveled over into their laps.
EaterAK: Dessert comes — brownie, cookie, apple crisp.
EaterGM: Cold apple crisp.
EaterAK: And then Maria announces that we have to sing happy birthday to the drunk table. As soon as she comes to clear our plates, the girl next to us asks if we can leave.
EaterGM: I loved her for that.
EaterAK: And we, almost too gratefully, thank them.
EaterGM: + 10 points.
EaterAK: "Oh my god Pamela, thank you thank you thank you." As we were conga-ing out of the dining room, the one girl in front of me said they were going out for burgers after this.
EaterGM: Nobody finished any of the food.
EaterAK: I will say this: You just gave up after a certain point.
EaterAK: It is interesting in a certain sense, to experience food in that way. Where you visual cues are gone and you are going off of flavor alone to figure out what everything is.
EaterGM: Right. But the food was not really suited to that kind of sensory experience.
EaterAK: But it's also just uncomfortable. And hunger doesn't come into play, because all you feel in anxiety.
EaterGM: I mean, Eric Ripert could have served the Le Bern tasting menu in the dark dining room, and I still would have hated it.
EaterAK: There's no room for any other bodily feeling.
EaterGM: Your instincts kick in. It becomes a fight for survival. "Where is water? I need water."
EaterAK: The food is more of a distraction from your fear, not something to nourish you.
EaterGM: But, even at my most relaxed moment in the dark dining room, when the food came, my stress level dipped from 10 to 8, then shot back up to 10.
EaterAK: It was also hard to not know where you waitress was because you couldn't get a sense of what was going on.
EaterGM: No. They also just sort of slapped the plates down in front of you.
EaterAK: And so much touching! The waitress touched my hands, my shoulders. And yes, just had to kind of drop the plates where she could.
EaterGM: On the way out, I was afraid I was going to miss the conga line and be stranded in the dark dining room. So I wildly flailed my arms to find the person next to me, and smacked her in the face.
EaterAK: Ha, yes my girl next to me grabbed my arm to make sure I was coming. No man left behind.
EaterAK: So we leave, we get our stuff from the basement, and we look at the dubious menus.
[The Dubious Menus]
EaterAK: I don't think they were truly accurate, since they were printed out and laminated. I imagine they improvise a little bit.
EaterGM: Nope. As I recall, you were certain that the menus didn't match up. It turns out I was nibbling on "conch fritters" and "wild boar."
EaterAK: The dessert course, which was easy to pinpoint, was off on the menu. But anyway, we pay our hundred dollars a head (three courses plus one cocktail each) and head out into the scrum of 8th Avenue and 38th Street on a summer night.
EaterGM: Yes, compared to the dark dining room, the summer streets around Port Authority were beautiful.
EaterAK: Like walking to Sardi's against the traffic of all of the theaters letting out, I was so happy.
EaterGM: Totally. Just to be free.
EaterAK: And then once we were at the bar having a normal non-surprise drink, I was relieved that were could have normal conversation.
EaterGM: Right, instead of "OH MY GOD I HATE THIS SO HARD."
EaterAK: Or "Where would you rather be right now? I can list 100 places."
EaterGM: So, this is a restaurant that has not been reviewed by any critics, and there is perhaps a reason for that: this restaurant should not exist. No one should go there.
EaterAK: And i can't imagine they have repeat customers.
EaterGM: Shitshow Week verdict?
EaterAK: My friend it's a shitshow.
· All Coverage of Dans Le Noir [~ENY~]