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Are you scared of the dark?
Dont be. Instead, let the experience of eating take over your senses.
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Rob Milligan samples the appetizer during during Dining in the Dark at Grapes & Hops. - photo by Tom Reed

Have you ever tried to eat dinner blindfolded?

Usually, restaurant patrons like to see their food, so the idea might sound a little crazy. But at Grapes & Hops, Dining in the Dark is a new culinary experience.

"The premise behind it is that if you take away the sense of sight it will increase your sense of taste and smell," said Michelle Schreck, co-owner of Grapes & Hops Bar & Bistro in Flowery Branch. "So it's a dining experience that does do that; ... it does make you pay attention to what you are eating. It makes you think about what you are eating. It is an interesting concept; you don't know what you are having."

The four-course, two-hour dinner is a secret along with the wines that are paired with the dinner.

"Basically it started in Europe, and they are pretty extreme with night vision goggles and you go into a room that is completely dark," Schreck said. "Since then it has traveled to New York, San Francisco, San Diego and they are doing it a little less extreme. We are using sleeping masks .... we ask folks to let us know about allergies."

Schreck said the dinner begins with the first course, paired with wine, and "everybody drinks and tastes." The guests then take off their blindfolds and they discuss the course with chef Timmy Lee.

"The whole purpose of this is to try and get people to open up their palettes and their minds and to try and get rid of any preconceptions that they have about food," Lee said. "I try to do something where we take something like chicken ... I try to, and manipulate them maybe by grinding it up or pounding it out, reforming it, so it's not so easy to identify what you are going to have. By doing those things it plays with your mind."

Sunday will be the third Dining in the Dark experience at Grapes & Hops and will feature special guest Juliana Shields, a representative with one of the biggest Australian wine portfolios in the United States.

"This past time (April 27) I did a boneless pork tenderloin and I had smoked it," Lee said. "Like I said, I try to manipulate food for this so somebody is going to think it is pork and some people thought they were eating chicken and some thought they were eating lamb."

Lee said the Dining in the Dark idea could easily be duplicated at home for a dinner party.

"For people that are into entertaining that like to have dinner parties for their friends it would be a really cool experience," he said. "It's funny to see the progression of people, first course everybody is totally lost. They are stabbing (the food), they are missing their mouths but then after the first course people are really starting to get the hang of it."

To create a successful dinner party there are a few pointers that Lee has for dining adventure seekers.

"Keep table settings pretty simple and don't crowd the table with a lot of centerpieces or a lot of silverware," Lee said. "Try to keep the setting pretty simplistic. Instead of using wine glasses we use rocks (bottom-weighted) glasses, they are lower and harder to knock over. If you want to feature a soup I suggest using a coffee mug or something that people can actually pick up.

"Sometimes it is easier to have things that are already precut.

"Don't do anything with bones in it ... shellfish like clams, mussels is probably not a good idea."

For those who think the Dining is the Dark experience will be safer at a local bistro, Grapes & Hops plans to continue the monthly dinner.

"We will try and do it once a month," Schreck said. "We normally do a wine dinner once a month so we are putting a twist on the wine dinner."

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