Last night we crossed another item off the things-we-should-do-in-Switzerland-but-haven’t-gotten-around-to-yet list: dining in the dark. Apparently dark restaurants are becoming quite trendy these days, but Zurich’s Blinde Kuh (German for ‘Blind Cow’) was the very first of them.
I found myself giddily excited while anticipating the evening, something which almost never happens to me. We arrived at the church-like restaurant and placed our bags, umbrellas, and cell phones (anything with a light is banned) into lockers in the entry way. In the (well-lit) foyer, we were told to choose our food from a menu projected onto the wall. We were also told our server’s name (Elisabeth), and instructed to call out for her if we ever needed anything once inside. We then lined up conga-style to be led into the darkness.
We were led through one set of heavy curtains to a slightly darkened area, where our waitress and guide paused to let us adjust a bit and talk to us (she started in Swiss German but was happy to switch to High German or English for us). She reiterated that we should call her name and wait for an answer if we needed anything, and to let her know immediately if we didn’t feel well, and she could lead us out. The suggestion that I might be going into a situation that would cause me to feel unwell set my brain into a little panic – why wouldn’t we feel well? Do lots of people not feel well inside? What’s not to feel well about? Do I feel well now?
And then we went onwards, through a couple more sets of heavy curtains, into the dark. We could hear the noises of people eating and chatting away all around us as Elisabeth led us to our table and then one by one to our chairs. We giggled nervously and got a feel for where each of our dining companions were sitting based on the locations of their voices. We felt the table in front of us to discover silverware and napkins (which we all tucked into our shirt fronts to avoid losing – since no one could see how silly we looked, anyway). I kept expecting my eyes to adjust, but of course they never did. The darkness was so all-encompassing that it made me feel claustrophobic, like I was trapped under a heavy blanket that I couldn’t escape from. But just for a second or two. After that it was fun. And dark.
We ordered into the darkness and waited for our food to, well, appear. I could smell the wine as it was put down in front of us. Plates came next, with a few words of description from Elisabeth, but it was awfully daunting to actually start eating. Some people gave up on their forks right away, and just used their hands. I managed reasonably well with my fork, although every once in a while I’d get a little freaked out by the mystery food it delivered to my mouth. I was halfway through my dish of mushroom ravioli before I realized that there was also steamed broccoli and roasted tomatoes on the plate. Surprise!
Once we were ready to go, we had to call out for the waitress several times before she appeared to lead us out. While waiting for her, we came up with various theories as to why she wasn’t responding… was she collapsed in a corner somewhere, but nobody could see her? Had we inadvertently offended her, and as payback she was going to leave us there all night? We decided we wouldn’t start panicking and trying to crawl our way out until we stopped hearing the voices of the other guests around us.
I found myself grateful that we were at this particular style of dark restaurant, where the wait staff is actually blind (and not wearing night-vision goggles so they can watch your feeble attempts to get your food into your mouth) and the room is actually dark (had we just been blindfolded, the temptation to peek at the food or the room would have been irresistible).
The experience didn’t come cheap – our bill came out to around CHF 70 per person for two courses, wine, and water. The food was reasonably tasty – nothing fabulous, but certainly edible. I’d definitely recommend trying it once. Go with people whom you don’t mind touching. Or whom you’re looking for an excuse to touch.
Despite rumors about months-long waits, we were able to get dinner reservations at Blinde Kuh just a week in advance (perhaps because it’s vacation season?). The website also says that lunch reservations are easy to get on the fly, and there’s even a Blinde Kuh bar for those interested in the dark thing, but not ready to commit to a whole meal. There’s a second restaurant in Basel, too.