Oct 10, 2008

Lifestyle - Dinner in the Dark

So this is how the blindfolded Gandhari (wife of Dhritarashtra, now reintroduced to the nation in Ekta Kapoor’s TV serial ‘Mahabharata’) had her ‘bhojan’. Eyes covered, plunged into darkness, hungry and feeling the plates with the tips of her tentative digits.
Gandhari had far loftier compulsions than the desire to be chic. However, at Toscano, where people pay good money to eat in darkness, the guiding principles are far more corporeal than fulfilling one’s righteous duty—it is all about being seen (or not, as is the case here) at the right place, among the right kind of people.
Guided dinner: Blackouts at Toscano are organized with advance booking.Dining in the dark isn’t new. In 1999, a restaurant in Zurich, called Blinde Kuh (Blind Cow), encouraged patrons to eat blindfolded so they could experience the loss of a sensation—to get diners to empathize with the waiters, who were visually challenged. The concept inspired a wave of copycat restaurants across Europe.
And as Europe does, so must we. Once a month at Toscano, the ‘dernier cri’ on Bangalore’s swish dining circuit, patrons can book a table (for Rs1,200) and, willingly blindfolded, eat whatever is placed before them. “All the other senses get heightened when people cannot see what food is in front of them,” said chef Jean Michael, the day we signed up to eat in darkness. “I hand-pick the items on the menu and guide the diners through their meal.”
It began with a mixed salad appetizer: a petite portion of sliced pears and asparagus tips on a bed of rucola leaves, sprinkled with a few walnuts and dressed with a red wine vinaigrette. The dressing was tart and the leaves peppery, but the asparagus bland and the walnuts too few to make a difference. The salad was followed by a thyme-flavoured spinach and garlic soup. You are asked to sniff, blow and sip, and try to guess what it was you just ate. It was warm, creamy and comforting, the mere suggestion of garlic adding depth of flavour. A fuller bowl would have been better for the soul.
So far, the minuscule rations had not made a dent in our king-sized hunger, and an announcement that there were two first courses gave some hope of a satiating dinner. But the delicate Camembert soufflé and a carrot and fennel mousse dispelled that notion the minute they arrived. The soufflé was light, the portion just enough to serve at a child’s dollhouse tea party: it was finished before the taste could make an impression on the palate. As for the mousse, it was good that the blindfold was on, as the texture and the flavour of the mousse was akin to bland, pureed baby food. For once we were glad that the portion was so small.
This was followed by the main course of pan-fried chicken breast and salmon with vegetables and prune jus. The chicken and salmon combination made for a curious marriage and the dish barely passed muster. The portions were as petite as the previous courses. But the plates looked pretty, said someone who peeked. Considering that we were blindfolded, “Why did they bother with garnishing?” the rest of us wondered.
The dessert platter included a portion each of apple crumble, mango pannacotta and a Kahlua mousse. The mango pannacotta was delicate and light on the tongue, with a clean, sweet finish and no cloying aftertaste. The dessert course was turning out to be the winner: the rich Kahlua-laced mousse, with deep chocolate overtones, was a rosette piped on a spoon, and the crumble was crumbly enough. But that was it: The portions were for Smurfs. Throwing etiquette to the winds, one asked for another spoonful of mousse. And got it. So who cares if anyone in the staff made a face at being asked for seconds? The blindfolds did serve one useful purpose.
The meal ended, the blindfolds came off. Someone said, “Interesting experience.” Sure, if you’ve never eaten in the dark before. Most people who have lived in Bangalore for more than five days have. They’ll tell you there’s a cheaper way to “eat while your senses are heightened”. Open Page 2 of any daily and stop at the headline that proclaims, “BESCOM announces four-hour power cuts in city.”
Blackout organized on advance booking. Toscano, The Collection-UB City, 24, Vittal Mallya Road, Bangalore (41738800). Daily noon-3pm, 7-11.30pm. All major cards accepted.

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