Saturday, June 9, 2012

One Restaurant That Steps Out Of The Box Of Conventionalism-Bon Appetit

The clue for today's 'Final Jeopardy' answer is: A survey of diners was conducted, which in the final analysis, food quality, atmosphere of the dining area, and fairness of seating order was isolated as their top responses. And the 'Final Jeopardy' question is: What are the top three specific attributes that have a high influence on diners' decisions to return to a restaurant? Sorry, no money to win, just another useless survey informing us about what common sense already substantiates. I would think all three aspects are considered by a dining establishment before it even opens to the public.

When it comes to food quality, freshness of produce is a relevant factor, but the potential patron has no way of verifying this and must accept the reliability of the restaurant. The presentation is another component in the evaluation process. What are the first words you hear a person say when the main dish arrives and is set before them? "That really looks good." Yet, even before you see the food or even the menu for that matter, the atmosphere sets the mood, which includes the decor, noise level, temperature, cleanliness, odors, lighting, and color schemes. Everyone who matters agrees the success of a restaurant hinges on these predicating factors, more or less. Now, having stated these obvious facts, there is always an exception to the rule. There exists a restaurant that blows everyone of these concepts out of the water.

This restaurant was rated one of the "10 Unusual Restaurants Around The World" by Forbes magazine. Since its inception in 2004, it has grown in popularity and expanded beyond its own countries borders. What's so unusual about it? You don't see your food. You don't see the decor. You have no clue of its cleanliness. The lighting and color scheme is of no consequence. Quite literally, when you step through its doors, you are in the dark. Fittingly, the restaurants name is "Dans le Noir", which in French means, and this should be of no surprise, "in the dark." It offers you the opportunity to experience what it is like to be blind, of which, all the wait staff at this restaurant are. The kitchen staff, I assume, are not.

You enter Dans le Noir through a lighted bar area where you deposit anything that produces light into a locker, and that especially goes for cell phones. Next, you scan a chalkboard to make your food selections. At this restaurant you have the option of choosing your entree from a chalkboard menu or selecting the "surprise" option, and this is not for the faint at heart, you will have to guess what it is you are eating. Your blind waiter next directs you through a black curtain where you are plunged into total darkness. Now, you must rely on your other senses, especially your sense of touch.

Those who experienced this first hand reported intimacy as a necessity. While navigating their way to the table, each individual in the group was advised to put their hand on the person in front of them or the possibility of embarrassingly ending up in the lap of a stranger loomed large. Once seated, trying to envision the layout and the decor was impossible. The waiter encouraged the diners to get comfortable with the darkness and to get use to doing things for themselves, such as pouring their own wine. The waiter also offered useful tips, like putting your finger in your glass to know when it is full. If you needed the waiters assistance, shyness was out. You had to quite aggressively shout for your waiters attention.

When the entrees arrived, the use of eating utensils almost became obsolete, and here again, the hands were more useful, caveman style. Presentation can't be evaluated and all agreed the atmosphere was loud. For some reason, when people can't see, their communication elevates and the hearing becomes more acute. Sounds and conversation flood in from all directions.

You are not alone.There are over 50 other people in the same room. Uncontrollable laughing and giggling filled the air. Spilling drinks and making a mess was inevitable. It was an experience where you are totally set free from your inhibitions and equality reigned. After all, know one can see what you are doing or what you look like. In my thinking, dry cleaners are beneficiaries.

Realistically, this type of dining experience is something you probably would do once in a lifetime, maybe a second time as a special occasion with curious friends. Paris has the original. Other locations are London, Barcelona, and Saint-Petersbourg. Dans le Noir offers a three course meal and all beverages served ala carte. Coffee, tea, and other hot drinks (for safety reasons) are not served in the dark. Since its opening in Paris, the restaurant has seen over 1,000,000 visitors world wide.

Charleston doesn't have any unusual restaurants like the Dans le Noir. What Charleston does have is a deeply rooted French Huguenot history and its fair share of restaurants with French sounding names like Gaulart and Maliclet Cafe, La Fourchette, and 39 Rue de Jean. In 1973 the area of the city bounded by the Cooper River on the east, Broad Street on the south, Meeting Street on the west and Market Street on the north was designated the French Quarter. It was part of the original walled part of Charleston and where a high concentration of French merchants did business. It was also part of the original Grande Modell of 1680, famous for art galleries and restaurants, and still is today.
Picture by Fast and French

Gaulart and Maliclet Cafe, also known as “Fast and French" by locals, was created by two Charleston artists. The seating in the cafe comes with close quarters. Great for friends who are interested in coming together to catch up on what's been happening over a glass of French wine--just what you would expect of a street-side French cafe. It also has a bar with limited high top seating. The menu is simple and inexpensive featuring French cheeses, soups, salads, and daily dinner specials. It is located at 98 Broad Street. Check out the menu and prices.
Picture by 39 Rue de Jean

39 Rue de Jean is a classic French Brasserie patterned after Brasseries of late 1800 Paris where Parisians feasted on robust cuisine, handcrafted beers, and affordable wines. The menu features burgers, steaks, sushi, salads, and high class entrees with French names. Home to Charleston's favorite burger, ground in-house and served alongside hand-cut pommes frites, said to be the best in town.

The "Rue" has a beautiful bar with red covered high tops and red bistro chairs throughout. The walls are exposed brick and dark wood tones. Sidewalk dining is available. It was originally a two story brick warehouse built in 1880. 39 Rue de Jean translated to English is its location, 39 John Street. Check out the menu and prices.

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