Culture is served  October 2010

Guess who is coming to dinner?

TrattoNero restaurant opened this past summer inside the Insitute for the Blind in Milan. Meals are served in a completely dark dining room, allowing diners to “see” what they normally might miss

The entrance to Dialogue in the dark exhibit, home to the first restaurant in Italy where you eat in the dark.

Black is the new black

At Cafénoir in Milano, experience happy hour in the dark

According to “Milano da bere”, a guide to Milan nightlight, one of city’s hottest bars at the moment is Cafénoir. Frequented by teenagers, as well as thirty- and forty-somethings, from university professors to mechanics, the main attraction of the bar is the absence of light. Located inside the Institute for the Blind of via Vivaio 7, the bar is open Thursday to Saturday from 7 to 11 p.m. You can order an Italian Spritz, a classic Margarita or even a non-alcoholic cocktail, prepared by the excellent blind barmen. For the price of a drink, you are also served a selection of finger foods. Come to listen to the live music or hang out with friends, or even make new ones. Finally, it is conversation that counts, not what someone looks like. Enjoy a happy hour that is truly happy.

Ma. Vi.

Who would have thought that you don’t need to see in order to have a complete and memorable dinner? Eating in the dark can be an exciting and challenging way to experiment with “seeing” in a different way. TrattoNero – Il gusto dei sensi is the first restaurant in Italy where you can experience what it is like to be blind at the dinner table.

“The restaurant developed out of a permanent exhibit at the Institute for the Blind, Dialogo nel buio (Dialogue in the Dark)”, explains the manager of the Milan Institute, Franco Lisi.

“Inaugurated in 2005, the exhibit has attracted over 365,000 visitors so far. The exhibit allows people to experience a sensorial journey in total darkness. Visitors are accompanied by a blind guide who leads them through various scenarios, from the park to the city, to the market to the sea”.

The concept behind the exhibit is to teach people to experience the world beyond images. In the Eighties, Andreas Heinecke, a German social entrepreneur, designed the exhibit so that the disabled would have an ability to enrich their lives and interact with the seeing. “Since taste is a sense that you can only really enjoy while eating, we decided to open a restaurant next to Cafénoir, our bar without lights.”

The tour guides of TrattoNero, open every day until 7:30 p.m., are young men and woman with impaired vision. They lead disoriented visitors though the dark, where anything with a light or screen (cell phones, iPods or digital watches) is not allowed.

“They are trying to give a positive spin to blindness: living in the dark reawakens our other senses. In most situations, the disabled need our help, but in this circumstance they are the ones able to help us”.

They are the anchors in a sea so dark that only faith can guide us.
“Darkness is a breeding ground for improving our ability to trust others and giving up control….”

Entrance to TrattoNero restaurant and the chefs at work during the restaurant opening

At the beginning, eating in the dark can be a little scary. You search around for your fork, pick up a napkin that certainly isn’t yours, drop food on your shirt and touch your neighbor’s hand instead of the waiter’s. Perhaps you even have to go to the bathroom.
“Eating in the dark causes disorientation, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, but the waiters are trained to help people remain calm and deal with the difficulties of the situation”.

Almost immediately, however, you begin to rely on your four remaining senses, especially taste. You begin to relax and give into the experience.

The dinner is really fun, especially for groups.
“It is important that you share the experience with the other people at your table. People feel less lost this way and begin to recognize things that they normally ignore”.

A challenge and a resource.
Why not try it?
Perhaps, in some aspects of our lives we are, “blind who can see, blind who, even when looking, can’t see”, as the wife of the doctor in José Saramago’s novel “Blindness” says.
Who is afraid of the dark?

TrattoNero – Il gusto dei sensi
via Vivaio 7, Milan
tel. + 39 02.76394478
Istituto dei Ciechi (Institute for the Blind)

Mariagrazia Villa

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