A touching experience

Patrons of Blackout may be in the dark about what they’re eating, but it’s an illuminating adventure.

Blackout 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Blackout 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Everyone always tells me that the way the food is presented is the key to a good restaurant. At Blackout restaurant in Jaffa, however, diners are unable to see their food, as it’s all in the dark. This is not just the kind of darkness when someone switches off the light; this is darkness that your eyes never get used to. All this while trying to enjoy a bit of fine dining.
This novel experience is not just another faddy gimmick in a trendy Tel Aviv restaurant. Instead, it is part of the Nalaga’at Center in Jaffa, which does amazing work to help blind and deaf people.
The restaurant itself is located in what can only be described as a small pod within the bigger, industrial-style building of the unique center. All the waiters are blind and are happy to talk about their lives and how it is working in the restaurant.
Before we were taken inside the restaurant, we had a 10-minute briefing to explain a little about how the restaurant works and what to expect. After we had been told that we wouldn’t be able to see a thing the whole time and that our eyes would not adjust, I began to get a little nervous. I had never experienced anything like this before, and I became apprehensive as to what to expect.
Due to the fact that you can’t see the menu when inside the restaurant, you have to order before you go in.
The menu is very limited with only three vegetarian main courses, three fish main courses and three desserts.
At first I was a little disappointed by the lack of choice, but then at the bottom of the menu I saw something that surprised me. It was the “surprise menu.” This option involves your not knowing what you are going to eat until they serve it to you. I went for the fish surprise, and my friend went for the vegetarian surprise option.
Once we ordered, it was time to go into the restaurant. This was an experience in itself. We were called to go in and meet our blind waitress at the entrance. My friend put her hands on the waitress’s shoulders, I grabbed onto my friend’s shoulders, and we were led to our table. Once there, and in our chairs she showed us the relevant silverware and glasses. The system is very clever. The waitress tells you where everything is, and you have to try to keep each item in its proper place so that she knows roughly the location of each item on the table.
We poured each other water while laughing at the novel experience. Our very friendly waitress brought us some warm bread topped with sun-dried tomato and placed it between us. I felt as though we passed our first challenge of trying to eat in the dark quite successfully.
With our order having been put in before we entered the restaurant, our main courses came relatively quickly.
This is where the fun really began.
Instead of reaching for the knife and fork, both of us straight away used our hands to try to feel what delights awaited, as we couldn’t see a thing. I worked out that I had been served some sort of fish on a bed of some sort of vegetables, and my friend had received some sort of pasta. I finally plucked up the courage to try to eat with my knife and fork in the dark, and I was surprised at how difficult it was.
Despite all the excitement and novelty of the place, the food is of excellent quality. After a couple of tastes I really started to enjoy my very generous portion of fillet of salmon, which lay on a bed of sweet potatoes.
The salmon was cooked to perfection, and the Middle Eastern infused seasoning worked very well.
The vegetarian option that my friend received was just as impressive.
The mushroom-filled pasta with cream sauce and Parmesan was quite unique. It had a very rich taste, which was well complemented by the creaminess of the sauce.
Each main course was very filling so we barely had room for dessert, but I was still very intrigued to know what we would be served.
The desserts came, and this time we were a lot less curious intrigued to touch them. I took a spoonful and again was pleasantly surprised by the sophisticated taste. The main flavors were halva and pistachio, while the texture was something similar to a mousse. I later found out that it was Jaffa-style malabi with halva curls and pistachios.
My friend’s dessert also did not disappoint. We both tried it but were not sure what we were eating. My friend thought it was cheesecake, while I thought it was some sort of mousse. After a few more mouthfuls, I thought that perhaps it was a chocolate cheesecake. At the time it didn’t really matter exactly what it was, as it was deliciously rich with a great texture. We later found out that it was white chocolate mousse with broken butter cookies. It was interesting that we could not decide what we were eating but still polished off the dish.
Once we had finished dessert, we called our waitress and asked if we could leave. She quickly came over, and we formed a human train and she showed us to the exit.
We opened the door and were back in the real world again. It seemed strange to be able to see again, and the bright lights took a while to get used to. Although it was good to be able to see again and talk about the experience, we both missed being back in the restaurant. There are a few other surprises about the experience that I feel are better left unsaid and simply experienced when you visit.
As well as the Blackout restaurant, there is also Café Kapish where the deaf and hearing-impaired waiters engage in a dialogue with you in a language yet unfamiliar – sign language.
The Nalaga’at Deaf-blind Acting Ensemble integrates deaf-blind people into the community by providing them with the opportunity to perform on stage and put across their message. We went to see a performance of Not by Bread Alone, which was absolutely breathtaking and a must before or after dinner.
The Blackout restaurant is only a small part of what makes this amazing center so special. If you are looking for great quality food, excellent service and an evening with a little more meaning, then a visit to Blackout and the Nalaga’at Center is highly recommended.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Nalaga’at Center
Kosher (dairy)
Retsif Ha’aliya Hashniya, Jaffa Port

Open Sunday to Thursday. First service at 6:30 p.m., second service at 9 p.m.

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