Pizza Cosi

Pizza Cosi
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Italian
Kosher
46 Ben Yehuda
03-716-6432
Sunday – Thursday (11am–12am)
Friday (11am–3:30pm)

My friends and I may have ended up at Pizza Cosi on its first night open—I’m still not sure.  Either way, the group was quite happy to be seated in the attractive restaurant after roaming about the streets aimlessly, unable to settle on a place to eat.

I found the name of the restaurant to be deceptive. When I hear “Pizza Cosi,” I think of a simple pizza joint.  But don’t be fooled, the restaurant was quite lovely, with booth tables and simple décor.  The music, however, made it seem like they were trying a little too hard to be hip.

Pizza Cosi

Pizza Cosi

After we placed our orders, our oddball waiter (who looked like he must have had a second job as a mime) brought us some delicious, warm bread with a tasty olive tapenade.

Our oddball waiter…

Bread and olive tapenade

Doug and I a ordered fried goat cheese salad to start, which was delicious.  The nuggets of cheese were perfectly crispy, warm and creamy on the inside, doused with an amazing dressing.  A few juicy plum tomatoes and mushrooms that came with the cheese made the dish seem fuller, but without need.  As one of our friends commented, the fried goat cheese nuggets were “hella bomb”—they could have been a dish of their own.

Fried goat cheese salad

Our friends ordered the bruschetta antipasti, which was nothing special—doughy bread with grilled veggies.

Bruschetta antipasti

My gnocchi with Bulgarian cheese was good.  The gnocchi was light, chewy, and soft, providing a pleasantly delicate texture with each bite.  The Bulgarian cheese definitely contributed a salty touch that was just right at first, but managed to get a little overwhelming as I continued to eat.

Gnocchi with Bulgarian cheese

My friend’s Napoletana pasta was basic—a classic that wasn’t done excellently or poorly.  Meanwhile, Doug’s Pestito dish was a little lacking. It was a little too oily and could have used some cheese and, surprisingly enough, more pesto.

Napoletana pasta

Pestito pasta

Our other friend’s pasta dish, salmon fesa, was tasty.  The salmon was well cooked and had a good flavor, but the dish itself would have benefited from some spiciness.

Salmon fesa

All in all, our restaurant experience was solid.  The food was good, the waiter was incredibly attentive (perhaps because we were practically the restaurant’s only patrons), and the environment was lovely.  What they lacked, however, was diners.  I’ll chalk it up to bad publicity for the restaurant’s opening, though, and wish them more diners in the future.

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On Tap(s): Frozen Yogurt

Taps
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
http://www.tapstaps.com/he/home/a/main/ 
Frozen Yogurt
Not Kosher
2 HaArba’a
03-603-3330
Sunday – Thursday (10:30am-12:00am)
Friday (10:30am-3:00pm)
Saturday (an hour after Shabbat ends – 12:00am)

Taps : Tel Aviv :: 16 Handles : New York.

Taps is the type of place that makes any day better.

Taps

The frozen yogurt at Taps is self-served.  You can select as many flavors as you want and cover them with as many toppings as you please.  When you’re done loading down your cup, you put it on a scale to be weighed and pay by the gram.  I’ve always loved the concept—it seems silly to me to have to pay per topping (what if I just want one strawberry on my ice cream, just to brighten things up? Or what if I want to throw in just a couple of M&Ms for a surprise chocolatey bite here and there? What if I can’t pick between chocolate and caramel swirl and want both?)

Given my love for this type of frozen yogurt place, I’ve been to quite a few in New York.  Some have more flavors than others, most have basic fruit and candy toppings.  But Taps had more of both than any place I had ever been to in New York.  The selection of toppings was truly astounding—from cereals to chocolates (each one with milk, white, and dark options), dried fruit to gummies, nuts to fresh fruit, fudges to jams—they have countless options.

Taps

The toppings corner at Taps

Some of the cereal toppings at Taps

Some of the chocolate toppings at Taps

The sauces at Taps

At this point, I honestly can’t remember what I had.  It was probably a medley of tart flavors (plain, peach tart, and pomegranate raspberry tart probably filled the majority of my cup) covered in milk chocolate mekupelet, gummy bears, raisinettes, strawberries, pomegranate, chocolate chip cookie dough, mochi, passionfruit, pineapple, almonds, granola, craisins, dried passion fruit, M&Ms, and the type of chocolate fudge crunch that hardens upon contact with the cold frozen yogurt.  While I can’t recall exactly what I picked that night, I do remember loving every bite and forcing myself to refrain from licking the cup clean (we were with Doug’s parents, after all).

Pomegranate raspberry tart

My completed masterpiece of a treat

My only disappointment is that there aren’t more Taps locations.  Given that we moved out of Tel Aviv shortly after discovering it, we never got to go again before coming back to the United States.  We’ll just have to wait until our next trip to the land of milk and honey for our next Taps fix.

Mama’s Borekas

Mama’s Borekas
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Borekas
Not Kosher
16 King George
03-525-1111
Open 24-7

With the days of my grandmother’s homemade borekas recently behind us, I can’t help but think of our singular borekas outing in Israel.  While the borekas absolutely does not compare with my grandmother’s, it could certainly do in a pinch.

A mound of my grandmother’s DELICIOUS homemade borekas

Mama’s Borekas

Mama’s Borekas is open 24-7 and I could have actually imagined myself going a lot more often, if my grandmother hadn’t spoiled us with her delicious borekas.

We ordered a potato mushroom borekas, which was quite heavy, but in a nice, filling sort of way.  The potato filling was well cooked, creamy, and perfectly proportioned.  The accompanying tomato sauce was cool, giving a nice light touch to the starchy treat.  The dough flaky and, while just a bit too oily, not overwhelmingly so.  All in all, quite a satisfying treat.

Potato and mushroom borekas

The cheese and olives borekas was also quite tasty.  Filled with salty Bulgarian cheese and olives, it had a sharper flavor than the potato borekas.

Cheese and olive borekas

Each dish came with an assortment of sides, including the tomato sauce, tahini, some pickles, and an egg.  It was perfectly filling and, at 21 shekels, doesn’t break the bank for a late-night snack.  For 32 shekels, they throw in a 1/3L of beer; for 35 shekels, a 1/2L of beer.

Mama’s Borekas

If you’re looking for some variety, they also serve malawach and jachnoon.

Hummus Gan Eden

Hummus Gan Eden
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Hummus, Ful
Not Kosher, Vegetarian
46 Yona Ha’Navi
03-510-2230
Saturday-Thursday (11:00-23:30)
Friday (11:00-18:00)

From the outside, Hummus Gan Eden looks like any other hummus joint in Tel Aviv: non-notable furniture, vinyl tablecloths, a small outdoor seating area, and a Coca-Cola refrigerator for drinks.  But just one look at the menu, which lists Special Hummus Darfur (consisting of egg, ful, tahini, tomato, and chickpeas) and Special Ful Darfur (egg, grated cheese, tomato, chickpeas, and onion), makes it clear that this isn’t a typical Israeli hummus restaurant.

Hummus Gan Eden

Hummus Gan Eden

Hummus Gan Eden

Hummus Gan Eden was opened in December 2009 by three Sudanese refugees, Adam, Hassan, and Muhi.   They each fled war-torn Darfur in the 2000s, making their way to Israel through Egypt.

More than five million people have been affected by the violent conflict that has overtaken Sudan since 2003.  Millions of people have been displaced and approximately 400,000 people have died as the Janjaweed, with the assistance and aid of the Sudanese government, fight against rebel guerrillas.  Genocide is ongoing in racially mixed Darfur, which is home to African peasant farmers and nomadic Arab herders; the Janjaweed are persecuting, displacing, and murdering African farmers and others in the region.  Many Darfurians have lost family and friends and have been forced to leave their nation. Homes have been torn asunder as millions have become refugees in foreign lands.

In 2007, Hassan left his hometown after the Janjaweed raided the area, burning houses and shooting people.  He survived the raid by hiding with his two brothers, but unfortunately his parents were killed during the raid.   He fled to Khartoum and then Cairo before making it to Israel with a group of Darfurian refugees.

Muhi, who also fled Darfur after an attack on his village that led to his brother’s death, lived in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum until government agents began searching for Darfurians on the run.  He moved to Egypt with his wife and lived in Cairo for 18 months before determining to make the journey to Israel on his own; he and his wife decided that she would join him later if he survived the journey.  He now lives in Tel Aviv with his wife and two children.

Adam, meanwhile, left Darfur after a Janjaweed attack destroyed his village.  His family escaped to neighboring Chad while he fled to Egypt alone, where he lived for two years.  Circumstances were difficult there, he said, and Sudanese refugees were not welcome.  He left after Egyptian soldiers killed a number of Darfurian refugees.  After running from Arab country to Arab country, he said, he decided to go to the Jewish country of Israel to seek safety.  He knew close to nothing about Israel but had heard a lot of negative things.  He expected to find warfare and fighting in Israel but found nothing of the sort.  Instead, upon his arrival in 2007, he found people who were helpful and caring.  He worked at a hotel in Eilat for a year before moving to Tel Aviv, where he worked full-time at a metal factory in Azur before opening Hummus Gan Eden with Hassan and Muhi.  While at first he continued to work full-time at the metal factory and only helped at the restaurant on Fridays and Saturdays, he currently only works the restaurant’s evening shift, spending his mornings in Ulpan.  One of his partners, Hassan, spends his mornings at the restaurant before heading to English classes.

“I am Israeli,” Adam says.  While he knew nothing of Israeli culture or history and knew no Hebrew upon his arrival, he now feels comfortable in Israel.  But, he clarified, he would never forget his past and would gladly return to Darfur when there is peace.

Adam at Hummus Gan Eden

The combination of an Israeli present and the recollections of a Darfurian past can be seen in the food at Hummus Gan Eden.  The Special Hummus Darfur combines Israeli hummus and tahini with classic Darfurian ful and cooked, tender chickpeas.  In Darfur, Adam explains, they eat cooked chickpeas during Ramadan as they’re healthy and provide much-needed energy and nutrition.  They also eat ful (mashed fava beans) like Israelis eat hummus.  Not only is it a divine combination, including a hard-boiled egg and some fresh tomato, but each element also stands wonderfully on its own.  The hummus has a perfect texture—not too creamy and not too chunky—and is served warm with paprika sprinkled over it and olive oil drizzled on top.  The ful, meanwhile, is amazing.  It has a gentle, soft flavor and is both well seasoned and textured.  I almost wished I had a whole plateful of it.

The Special Hummus Darfur combines Israeli hummus and tahini with classic Darfurian ful and cooked, tender chickpeas

Luckily, I had a plateful of something else that was delicious: Hummus Shakshuka.  Traditionally, shakshuka is a dish comprised of an egg poached in a spiced tomato sauce.  Hummus Gan Eden’s version, however, was a little different.  Rather than poach the egg, it was scrambled into the tomato sauce.  I don’t know whether that made the dish that much tastier than its poached counterpart or if it was the combination of sweet paprika and warming, earthy cumin with the refreshingly garlic undertone that did it.

Hummus Shakshuka

I was hooked.  The only thing that was missing from the meal? Darfur-Style Eggplant.  The restaurant’s eggplant dish is so good that they were out of it when I visited!

As I wiped my plates clean with a fluffy, warm pita, I finally allowed my eyes the opportunity to wander away from my food.  I was in the smaller seating area in the back of the restaurant, which, with red brick accents and an inset floral painting on one wall, had a homier and more intimate feel to it than the front space.  The overall feel of the restaurant is very relaxed, even understated.  Ultimately, the restaurant’s appearance is rather unremarkable.  The story of the restaurant’s three owners, however, who fled their homelands and now found themselves preparing Israeli-style hummus with a Darfurian twist in a country they knew nothing about only a decade ago, is nothing short of remarkable.

Special Hummus Darfur and Hummus Shakshuka

Habesh

Habesh (also spelled Habash)
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
http://www.rol.co.il/sites/habash/
Ethiopian
Kosher
8 HaNegev
03-516-4264
Sunday – Thursday (10:00 – 10:00)
Friday (10:00 – Shabbat begins)
Saturday (Shabbat ends – 11:00)

Back in January, we went to Habesh with some friends from our long-term Israel program just a few days before the program ended and we all went our separate ways.  Two were going to Europe to travel for a month, one was returning to the US to look for jobs, one was going to grad school, and another was just starting a Masa program in Israel, while Doug and I were continuing our stay in Israel while working full-time.  Knowing that we would soon scatter, we relished the opportunity to spend time together.  And what better way to spend one of our last chances to all be together than to dine on communal, hand-eaten Ethiopian food.

The bar at Habesh

The understated interior of Habesh

While the menu listed tons of things that appealed to us, we were limited by what was available on mozei Shabbat (Saturday night after Shabbat ends).  What with the kitchen not working all day and the staff comprising of one individual, they were unable to provide any of the lamb dishes, chick pea stew, angocha, or desserts.  Despite this, we managed to pick a fair assortment of dishes to try.

Does anyone know what this is?

Instead of lamb, we settled on a chicken dish.  The meat was still on the bone, which was interesting to get at in a communal setting, but was worth it as it was wonderfully tender and had a sweet and spicy thing going for it.

Our platter of deliciousness

While I definitely enjoyed the chicken, I liked the beef far more.  While it wasn’t what I would call tender, it was incredibly juicy and flavorful and I couldn’t help but try to sneak more than my fair share of them onto my plate.

Eating by teff

In addition to the meats, we had yakaklit wat, a mix of fresh green beans, carrots, green peppers, potatoes, and onions.  Despite my aversion to onions, the split peas were rather tasty and the potatoes looked and tasted lovely, thanks to the turmeric.

Then there was miser wat, a dish of split red lentils cooked in Ethiopian red pepper sauce.  It was beany, warm, and delicious.  Later research led me to find that miser wat contains berbere, a reddish mixture of spices that includes chili, garlic, cayenne, ginger, basil, and black pepper, amongst others, that is a staple of Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine.

But the kik alicha stole the day as everyone’s favorite dish.  Turmeric, ginger, garlic, and cardamom contributed to the sweet pureed root vegetables that were prepared in such a way that they fell apart in your mouth.

At this point I’d like to point out that we had no silverware.  None. So how, do you ask, does a group of six people share a single drumstick, pieces of beef, and various piles of vegetables? Using teff, the Ethiopian equivalent to bread.  With the appearance of a sponge or a pancake cooked on one side right before flipping and about the size of a standard crepe, the various dishes were served on a platter of teff.  In addition to the platter teff came several rolls of the spongy bread.  At first bite, it seemed quite sour and lemony, but as we continued to eat I came to appreciate the cooling feeling and palate-cleansing purpose it served.  Beyond that, it was the perfect thing to pick things up with as it was rather flexible and tactile.  The best part? The spongy holes absorbed and retained sauces and spices, giving the pieces under each dish an amazing flavor.

Ethiopian teff

By the end of the meal, I knew I’d be coming back for more… but next time on a day when they have every dish on the menu available for my devouring.

Devouring our food… and each other

Tapas in Israel

Tapeo
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
http://www.tapeo.co.il/
Tapas
Not Kosher
Hertziliya Pituach
Muro theme
9 Shenkar St
09-954-6699 / 09-954-8030
Tel Aviv
Gaudi theme
16 Ha’arba St
03-624-0484 / 03-561-0489

After having spent a semester living in Madrid, you’d think I’d be incredibly familiar and naturally accustomed to eating tapas.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  In Madrid, the majority of tapas are meaty, a major issue for someone who doesn’t eat non-kosher meat.  Luckily, tapas bars in Israel are more conscious of those with dietary restrictions.

Tapeo is no exception.  With a section of the menu devoted to vegetarian tapas, there was no lack of options for us.  Jackpot!

Our trip to Tapeo was rather spontaneous and, in hindsight, Doug and I are both thrilled that we ended up going.  We initially planned to have dinner in Tel Aviv, but were too tired to bother with the idea of public transportation on a Thursday evening.  So, on a whim, we decided to go to Tapeo.  We made a last minute reservation to the local restaurant, which is apparently quite the hotspot on Thursday nights.

Tapeo in Hertziliya

Whether you’re taking in the restaurant’s décor from the wrap around wooden bar, from a table on the raised platform, or from the upstairs seating area, it’s quite apparent that the theme isn’t entirely Spanish, as one would imagine given that it’s a tapas bar.  While a Muro-esque painted adorned the length of one wall, the color scheme and other images were reminiscent of Aztec symbols.  The indoor wrought-iron street lamps, however, gave the place a more European metropolitan feel.  All in all, not an entirely unified theme, but it came together to look fantastic and elegant, if nothing else.

Tapeo in Hertziliya

Tapeo in Hertziliya

We had some trouble choosing our tapas from the long list of vegetable options, but we eventually settled on four of the dishes along with a salmon tapas.

Our asparagus tapas came out first, looking simple but tasty with its pickled lemons & spiced aioli sauces and little char marks from the grill.  The asparagus was cooked absolutely perfectly, not too hard or soft, but tender and easy to bite.

Asparagus with pickled lemon & spiced aioli sauces

The patatas bravas came out next.  Each potato cube looked beautifully and evenly crispy, a true marvel worth admiring (from a potato lover’s perspective).  It tasted even more amazing than it looked.  The inside of each potato piece was soft and melty, a perfect contrast to the crusty outside.  The potatoes were perfectly salted and covered with a tiny bit of tomato sauce and spiced aioli sauce, which gave each piece a creamy, refreshing touch.  The one thing I would have added was a little more spice.

Patatas bravas with tomato and spiced aioli sauces

The paprika-crusted salmon was next.  As people who aren’t huge fish fans, we didn’t expect much.  But the salmon was shockingly good!  It was cooked such that the outside was beautifully crusty and crispy while the middle was still slightly raw.  While usually not our thing, it was amazing how tender it was and how the fish really just melted in our mouths.  The beans that went along with it weren’t too flavorful, but added a chewy texture to contrast the crunch of the outer part of the fish and the buttery consistency of the inner part of the fish.

Paprika-crusted salmon

The cauliflower that came after was probably my favorite (with the patatas bravas a very close second).  The chefs somehow managed to get the cauliflower to brown perfectly and evenly.  It looked, quite accurately so, simply mouthwatering.  The cauliflower was not only perfectly colored, but also perfectly cooked—it had a nice, toothsome crunch to it.  The creamy anchovy aioli sauce was cooling and refreshing, with a nice garlicky bite.  Simple and delicious.

Cauliflower with creamy anchovy aioli sauce

Our final tapas were the mushrooms.  Neither of us eats many mushrooms, but both of us seem quite curious about them and open to trying them.  Consequently, the mushroom filled with cheese topped with saffron sauce intrigued us.  Luckily so, since the dish was quite tasty.  The mushroom and hearty goat cheese made for an incredible combination along with the very mild, but defined saffron sauce.  Earthy and comforting.
By the time we finished all of our tapas, we were appreciative of the restaurant chefs’ skills.  They clearly knew how to handle their vegetables: cooking them to perfection, putting together dishes that highlighted the flavor of each one, adding only simple sauces that completed their flavors.

Mushrooms filled with cheese, topped with saffron sauce

Despite our desire for more of each of the dishes we tried, we restrained ourselves in the interest of having a dessert.  The waitress described numerous options, but the first one she mentioned stuck: churros con chocolate.

The classic Spanish dessert called to me at the moment and I was glad they did since they were divine! Never had I had churros so good, so tasty, so addictive! While they weren’t truly Spanish in prepartion (the Spanish eat their vhurros without anything sweet, really), they made me want to go back to Spain and survive off churros for the rest of my life.  They came out, mini style (so cute!), covered in sugar, along with three dips: dark chocolate, white chocolate, and dulce de leche.  All of them were amazing! The churros themselves were crunchy on the outside, but smooth and creamy on the inside.  They were gentle, but incredibly flavorful.  When eaten with the dark chocolate (which was unfortunately a little frozen), one enjoyed the sensation of richness.  The white chocolate gave a sense of luxury, while the dulce de leche contributed an added sweetness. So. Good!

Churros

Churros con chocolate

Despite my sadness when they were gone, I was thrilled that they left a noticeable and amazing aftertaste, reminding me throughout the rest of our night that we had a lovely dinner followed by the most delicious churros ever—truly a great way to end a meal!

Dining in the Dark at Blackout

Blackout (NalaGa’at)
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
http://www.nalagaat.org.il/
Dairy
Kosher
Retsif Ha’Aliya Ha’Shniya, Yafo Port
(03) 633-0808
Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday
(6:30pm – Vegetarian Meal 90 NIS OR Fish Meal 110 NIS)
(8:30pm – Vegetarian Dinner 140 NIS OR Fish Dinner 160 NIS)

I recently enjoyed one of the most romantic dinners of my life. Think whispered conversations, stolen kisses, quiet giggles, and completely worriless enjoyment…  What do you imagine? Sharing bites of churros con chocolate in a quiet café in Europe?  A beachside meal eaten while a gentle Mediterranean sea breeze playfully ruffles your hair?  A small table for two at an intimate, candlelit restaurant?  Outdoor seating in a quaint garden under twinkling stars?

I doubt any of you instantly thought of a restaurant where you can see nothing, where you have to be led to your table in a human train and eat your meal in the absolutely pitch black darkness while sharing your table with people you’ve never met.  But believe it or not, despite not being able to make eye contact or even see the people you’re eating with, the experience is incredibly intimate.

Na’LaGaat is a center in Yafo for the deaf and blind.  They have a café, a theatre, and a restaurant.  After many attempts to make a reservation and many cancellations due to a number of scheduling conflicts, we finally made it to the restaurant, Blackout.

Na’LaGaat

Blackout has two seatings on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays—one at 6:30pm and one at 8:30pm.  The 8:30pm seating is longer and includes more food, but trust me when I say that the amount of food you get at the 6:30pm seating is plenty.

Before you enter, the staff provides you with a menu and explains how it all works.  You order your meal before entering, but you can order drinks from your waiter/waitress once inside.  The wait staff is comprised of those who are blind or severely visually impaired.  You are seated next to your dining partner, as it is far easier to interact with them this way, although you may be seated with other diners.  If you need anything during the meal, you simply call for your waiter, as they are always nearby.  Bibs are provided for those who want to avoid making a mess of themselves during the meal (we’d recommend taking one to wear as a bib and another to supplement your napkin).

Inside Na’LaGaat. This is the area where you lock up your belongings in a locker and choose your meal before entering the restaurant.

We giddily awaited to be seated, watching as couple after couple entered the restaurant with their bibs on.  We ended up being the last couple led in.  Before entering the restaurant, you enter a small “holding” area of sorts where you meet your waiter/waitress in a dimly lit environment.  After the introductions, our waitress explained that we’ll “human train” our way to our table.  A waitress-Taly-Doug train proceeded into the void of darkness that was the restaurant.

Our waitress helped us feel our way into our seats, told us that our napkin and silverware were to our right, and suggested that Doug try to pour water into our glasses from the jug on the table.  He cautiously did so, successfully filling both of our glasses without spilling (as far as we could feel, anyways, since we couldn’t actually see of course).

I spent the first few minutes convinced that my eyes would adjust to the dark and that at any moment I would turn my head and see shadows, at least.  I just couldn’t understand how they managed to make the restaurant so dark! I couldn’t help but put my hand directly in front of my face just to see if I would see something. I didn’t.  For the first time in as long as I can remember, I was in the complete, utter darkness.  There were no windows, clocks, watches, phones, or cameras inside – just blackness.

We managed to get through our breadbasket without incident, but our meals required a little more effort.  I had ordered the pistachio gnocchi in creamy poppy-seed and almond sauce while Doug, being more adventurous, ordered the surprise meal.

Our waitress put our meals in front of us.  Thinking it couldn’t be that hard to eat without seeing, I found my fork and stabbed it into the middle of my plate. Only when I put my fork in my mouth did I realize that it was empty.  It took several such instances before I became more attuned to and focused on the slight pressure difference in using my fork when I actually pierced a piece of gnocchi and the tiny weight at the end of my fork when it had something on it.  As the meal went on and my plate emptied, it also became increasingly difficult to find pieces of gnocchi.  I had to use my silverware to simply push things towards the center of my plate so I wouldn’t miss anything.  I couldn’t help but wonder how many meals went back to the kitchen only partly eaten, since people couldn’t find their food in the dark.

Doug, meanwhile, had an entirely different dilemma when he got his meal. He had ordered the “Surprise Meal” and had no idea how to approach it—what silverware to use, if it needed cutting, if it would be warm or cold. Luckily, it turned out to be a rather simple dish: spinach ravioli.

As if eating our own meals wasn’t enough of a challenge, we both wanted to try the other’s dish.  We wound up having to feel for each other’s hands in order to find the fork.

Getting past the enjoyment of the actual experience, I thought the food was rather tasty too. Nothing out of this world, but definitely good.

Throughout the meal, we chatted with the couple we shared a table with.  According to the waitress, the restaurant tried to avoid having parties sit together but ultimately couldn’t help it (why is beyond me as I obviously couldn’t see the layout, size, or shape of the restaurant).  While at first they were worried that people wouldn’t enjoy sharing tables, they found it was a blessing in the end.  It doesn’t surprise me at all, considering we thoroughly enjoyed talking to our faceless tablemates.  We talked to them about the experience at the restaurant, our meals (our neighbor got fish—I couldn’t imagine trying to eat that without seeing anything!), where we were from, where we lived, what we did, etc… all without knowing what the others looked like.   We joked that the restaurant would be an excellent location for a blind date, as the people would really get to know each other without any physical or visual influences.

We spoke a little more as we waited for our desserts.  When they arrived, we and the couple across from us found that our waitress had brought us each an extra treat.  She told us that they brought us the extra treat as an apology for having made us wait so long. Our tablemates received an extra dessert because it was the guy’s birthday. And with that, the waitress started singing happy birthday… or rather, the entire restaurant started singing happy birthday with more gusto than I had ever witnessed in a restaurant birthday song.  As everyone clapped and sang, I couldn’t help but laugh.  It was as if everyone, with the knowledge that they couldn’t be seen in the darkness, lost their inhibitions.  Afterwards, our tablemate was quite pleased that, despite the fact that everyone in the restaurant just sang to him, he could soon walk out as an anonymous young man.

Our desserts were good.  Doug got a chocolate mousse with almond crumble that proved to be very rich.  Meanwhile, I got the white chocolate mousse with butter cookie crumble and fresh fruit.  Our extra treat was a cheesecake.  Our neighbors, who were kind enough to share, received a dish with marzipan in it.  While none of the desserts was incredibly memorable, they were all tasty enough.  But my favorite part about the dessert wasn’t the flavor… it was listening to our tablemates as they shared.

“OW!” screamed the birthday boy.

“What? What happened? I was just trying to give you a taste of the mousse…” His girlfriend replied, confused.

“I was just drinking! You hit me in the eye with your spoon!”

With that, I lost it.  The hilarity of it overwhelmed me.  While I couldn’t see anything, I imagined I could. The guy, one eye covered in mousse and squinting slightly after getting hit in the eye with a spoon, the girl confusedly holding a spoon only half-full of mousse.

I regained my composure just in time for our waitress’s visit.  She sat down with us and started chatting with us.  We talked about the layout of the restaurant, how she managed to navigate it, and how she managed to serve patrons’ food without knocking things over.  On a more serious note, she explained that as a young girl, she attended normal school as her mother insisted that there was nothing wrong with her.  Our waitress explained that she was blind in one eye and severely visually impaired in the other, so it was very difficult for her to attend a normal school.  But, as she talked about her children and grandchildren, she made it clear that her visual impairment did not preclude her living the life she wanted.  I couldn’t help but be awed by her strength and courage.  As she told us that she worked at the restaurant since its opening in 2007 and how the restaurant never did well financially, I couldn’t help but wish I could somehow help out.

Shortly after, our waitress led our tablemates to the exit (again, human train style).  More and more parties were leaving, so the restaurant became gradually quieter.  Awed by the experience, we sat for a short time holding hands, waiting for our waitress to fetch us (we had to wait for a few minutes as a traffic jam had developed by the exit, it appeared).  Eventually, our waitress led us back out the way we entered, where we paid and picked up a cup of hot tea. Tea in hand, we made our way to one of the outdoor café tables, where we finally saw our tablemates in person and put faces to the voices we heard over dinner.

I was surprised to see that the people were less attractive than I imagined. Not that they were unattractive, but for some reason I thought they would be rather good looking (based solely on our good conversation with them during the meal).  It’s truly amazing… the basic outline we create of people we interact with without seeing (like the person you speak with on the phone every day at work whose appearance surprises you when you finally meet them, or the book character whose image in your mind is shattered when you see the movie presentation of him).

We enjoyed tea after the meal.

Thinking back, it’s amazing how the night has become a blacked out area of my memory.  With no frame of reference whatsoever (silverware, plates, tables, food, waitress…), it has turned so easily into a memory of blank, dark nothingness.  Yet the blank, dark nothingness is accompanied by memories of scents, sounds, thoughts, and touches that are all the more amplified and memorable given that they are not linked with a particular site or image.  It’s hard to explain, but in a nutshell, it’s an eye-opening experience absolutely worth having.