Na laga’at means “please touch,” a welcome phrase that counters the typical “Please don’t touch” signs we come across all too often. It is the credo of the Nalagaat Center in Jaffa, a nonprofit organization that opened its doors in 2007.
The center is comprised of the Deaf-Blind Acting Ensemble; Café Kapish, with its deaf waiters; and BlackOut, the pitch-black restaurant with its staff of blind waiters. More than 70 people are employed there, most of whom are blind, deaf or both.
Inside BlackOut, the tables are turned, so to speak. Those who are not visually impaired are guided by those who are. Touch, the sense used by the hearing and sight impaired to communicate, takes center stage. All guests are escorted into the restaurant through a dim hallway. They go through a curtain and enter train style, with their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them. They are led to their table slowly and carefully by their guide for the evening – their server. Because it really is pitch-black.
There are a few buffer rooms that lead out, the final one with black lights, so there is no possibility of seeing a thing. The Nalagaat Center warns that some people find it very disconcerting, unpleasant or claustrophobic for the first few minutes. The center also suggests putting any personal items in the lockers that are provided, as anything lost during the meal is almost impossible to find.
When we sat down at our table, our English-speaking server, Ma’ayan, told us exactly where our silverware was and where the pitcher of mint-scented water and glasses were placed. Even though we were given a fork and knife, Ma’ayan told us we might be more comfortable eating with our hands.
She also reminded us that if we signaled for her to come to the table, nothing would happen and we should not be shy to call out her name loudly when we wanted her.
Because there is no possibility of reading the menu inside, guests make their orders before stepping into the dining room. Many people opt for the surprise menu, which adds to the fun of guessing what one is eating by taste, texture and smell. There is the option of a fish/ vegetarian (NIS 160/NIS 180) choice of meal. Both include bread, starter, main course, dessert and a soft drink.
Once we were seated, crisp bread was served quickly, which was considerately pre-buttered.
Feeling our way carefully about the table, we were able to pour our beverages with a minimum of spills.
For starters, we opted for the stuffed mushrooms and the anisette-scented fish kebab. Both were equally delicious. We enjoyed diving straight into the food with our hands – forgoing utensils from the start – with our heads close to the plate, but really appreciated the moist towelettes Ma’ayan provided at the end of the course.
Then it was on to mains. These consisted of baked salmon in mustard and sesame, served with potato and cream gratin; and handmade ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta cheese in rosé dressing. The dishes incorporated interesting ingredients and innovative taste combinations, and both worked really well.
Dessert was delightful. The homemade chocolate ice cream and the surprise toppings tasted like cherry sauce and nougat pieces – although we had no way of being sure. My dining companion’s malabi came with halva curls and, in another star turn, pistachios. It was delicious and just the right consistency. We also received a gift for the table – a rich almond crunch chocolate mousse.
At the end of the meal, Ma’ayan led us out into the light. We stood there in the main entrance of the theater, blinking at the brightness.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Retsif Ha’aliya Hashniya, Jaffa Port
Tel: (03) 633-0808
Open Sunday to Thursday