Last Wednesday I had a dining experience that can only be described as orgasmic. Before you think I suffer from objectophilia or start calling me a foodshagger, let me explain that the event was intended to enhance and titillate the senses. I'm willing to bet good money that I am not the only person who has used the word orgasmic to describe the experience of Catharsis Restaurant's Dining in the Dark event in Little Havana.
The atmosphere at Catharsis on a regular evening somewhat resembles a higher state of consciousness, but Dining in the Dark elevated that feeling to another level. I had been dining there on a previous evening when I heard about the event and was invited to come and experience it by one of the owners.
Guests are given keepsake blindfolds (I think they were satin) to wear throughout the evening with explicit instructions to not remove them. If you had to use the restroom, you raised your hand and one of the staff would come and guide you.The experience cost $40 per person and for an additional $15 you get a wine pairing with every course.
The ambiance was conducive to a perfect evening. Catharsis usually has atmospheric music playing in the background. On any given night you may hear some Moby, jazz, or Latin alternative rock. I have to mention that this is one of the many reasons I enjoy dining there -- great music, but never overpowering -- it adds to the mood without being a conversation killer.
An MC addressed the diners throughout the evening. Six courses were served and diners were encouraged to call out what their palates were detecting -- or thought they were detecting. There are some ingredients which you may be able to detect immediately (though not many) and some which catch you completely off guard.
In complete darkness, the smells that permeated the air as each course was brought out seemed heightened - some diners would call out ingredients as the plates were being served, detecting ingredients on scent alone. These guesses were often wrong or at least slightly off the mark, which only added to the festive interactivity.
Although the restaurant offers superior service and ambiance, the main attraction is the food. The six courses ranged from average to superb, four of the six falling under the latter category. We started off with a honeydew noisette with red wine vinegar, sesame seeds, and honey. It was light, refreshing, and pleasant, but did not impress me one way or the other.
Then came the first of several dishes which made me want to weep for joy -- I may be slightly exaggerating, but you can ask my dinner companion how many times I repeated, "Oh my God," during this one course.
It was a spinach and ricotta cannelloni with melted mozzarella and it was one of the best things that has ever had the pleasure of entering my mouth. I am a notorious carnivore -- I need some kind of meat with every meal - but as I explained to my friend in between moans, I could just eat a bowl of this alone and be happy.
After a lemon sorbet with basil chiffonade to cleanse the palate, we received our third course. As we dug into the doughy crust, people called out the names of several fruits and meats. No one guessed that the primary ingredients of this empanada were pancetta and plum - a divinely inspired combination.
The next course was a Latin risotto with chopped maduros, pulled pork, and guava barbecue sauce. Although it was decent, it wasn't anything worth Tweeting about. I think the double dose of sweet provided by the maduros and guava barbecue sauce was perhaps too much for the pork. I would like to see this tried with the addition of something that will give it a little heat or maybe using more robust flavoring for the pork.
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Then came another course which had people moaning and groaning all over the dining room. The beef tenderloin with galette potatoes and three peppercorn sauce -- oh my God. This is the kind of dish that you come back to a restaurant for again and again.
To cap off the evening, we were treated to a sensory delight, one which had diners excitedly calling out ingredients. For someone like myself, who doesn't have much of a sweet tooth, I am especially bowled over when a dessert makes my toes tingle. The fried Oreo with vanilla ice cream was topped off with extra virgin olive oil and kosher salt. The addition of the olive oil made this dessert what it is -- flawless.
When the evening began, you could sense some people felt slightly ill at ease or uncomfortable -- after all we were placing our blind trust in the staff and chef. By the second course, the atmosphere had palpably changed and you could actually hear the giddiness that had overtaken the patrons. I guess it's all about knowing who you can trust.