IT’S called Dinner in the Dark. Don’t bother with makeup. No one’s going to see you.” I hurried her anticipating bad Saturday night traffic. My PussyKat away on business for the weekend gave me the chance to take out my other woman — my mother, La Emmanuela.
My expectations of a pitch black room and waiters in night-vision goggles were quashed as we were ushered into the Marriot’s ballroom with other guests in blindfolds already into their second course. I’m glad I let my mother finish both her eyebrows. Seated with another pair of latecomers, our “darkness expert” — our dedicated dining guide, Dr. Devi, breezed us through the basics and asked us to put on our blindfolds. We were asked to familiarize our place settings with our hands and served some white wine to ease us into the activity. Without much further ado, we were served the first course and advised to feel the plate’s edge to imagine distances our cutlery would have to navigate to the portions of food oriented as these would be on a clock’s face. With it came the blow-by-blow interactive instructional commentary.
Smell your food. What do you smell? What do you think your food is?
Everyone, you may begin at your six ‘o clock. Pierce the food with your fork then slice. You have a good piece on your fork, Karlo. You may put that in your mouth now. Miss Emmie, that’s a pretty big slice. You might want to cut that smaller. Yes, that’s a good piece. Sir Donnie, your food fell off your fork. Miss Luisa, very good. Now what do you think your food is? How does it taste? Correct. Prawns. What else is there?
Cucumber. Correct. Karlo, move to your nine o’clock. Sir Donnie, you may slide your food to your six ‘o clock. Everyone, your remaining food is at your 12 o’ clock. Please move your food to the center of the plate or to your six o’clock. Now, scoop your food. Miss Emmie, that’s your last piece. Karlo, your food is on now on your sleeve.
My dry cleaning would be one small point about the difficulty of sightlessness and an argument for Ben Affleck’s Daredevil. With sight shut down, the rest of the senses were forced to compensate. Midway through the course, I could identify familiar voices from other tables across the room. I could feel the waiters move around as they dished out plates. Aromas were intensified. Flavors burst in the mouth as they would in color to the eye.
The first course, as roughly detailed above, first registered to the nose with pleasant herbals then the briny sweetness of prawns hit the tongue. The distinct taste of lemongrass explains the general aroma before the tart sweetness and mild bitterness of pomelo does the fruity notes. Crisp, fresh cucumbers leave a clean finish in the Poached Lemongrass Prawn with Pomelo and Fresh Herb Salad.
We were asked to take the soup course as if we would from a cup of coffee. It was a Mushroom Cappuccino with Cocoa and Tarragon Powder, after all. The thick foam texture filled the mouth before the hot and heavy soup which was unmistakably mushroom. Tarragon was a bit lost on the flavor but definitely tickled the nose and the cocoa powder came in punches of pleasantly chocolatey bitterness.
Red was poured to signal the meat dish. It was quickly echoed in the hearty red wine stew on the tender and succulent beef. The veg mash initially came across as sweet potato but later unfolded as local squash in the main, the Classic Rib Eye and Vegetable in Red Wine Stew.
The Chocolate Lemongrass Cake for dessert came heavily scented in the herb with the darkly sweet aroma of chocolate chased by the sharp lemony taste of the lemongrass mousse and the rich chocolate base. White chocolate bonbons added a toothsome.
Dinner in the Dark was brought to the Queen City of the South by the Eye Society in partnership with the Marriott Hotel Cebu for the benefit Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines. The Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines is a non-profit, non-government humanitarian organization that brings the gift of sight to corneally blind individuals. The reinterpretation of the Manila installments’ menu was by the Marriot’s executive chef Chachpol Suaisom, who, owing to his heritage, deftly included touches of Thailand in the preparations.
More than just a delicious dinner and a novel new experience, I headed home with a newfound appreciation for my 20-20’s and a rekindled desire to be an organ donor. Corneal, to be specific to the cause of the Eye Society and the Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines. Ironically, Dinner in the Dark was, well, quite an eye-opener.