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Single New Yorkers Seek Soulmates in the Dark
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Mar 22, 9:07 pm ET

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Call it the ultimate blind date.

The latest fad to hit New York City's singles scene is "Dinner in the Dark."

Imagine a gourmet four-course meal with champagne and fine wine -- served and eaten entirely in darkness. Only the waiters, wearing night-vision goggles, can see what's going on.

Promoters promise the dinner is intimate and people lose their inhibitions in the pitch black, making it a great way to meet people.

It's intimate, all right, and people definitely lose their inhibitions, as a recent dinner showed.

Whether anyone would want to meet these people, who acted more like high school students during a cafeteria power blackout than like urbane urbanites, is a whole different story.

The least-impressed diners walked out midway through one recent "Dinner in the Dark," while the happiest ones bragged afterward about their conquests.

"It was great. You got to grope strangers, like that blond woman right there," a 36-year-old business manager named Jeff said gleefully. He also admitted to tossing pieces of bread at other diners under the protection of darkness.

INNOCUOUS BEGINNING

"Dinner in the Dark" began innocuously enough. Thirty or so patrons, who paid $89 apiece, gathered in a downtown restaurant, sipping cocktails.

Organizers explained how the diners would be led into a darkened dining room, how they should feel cautiously for the food, how not to knock over their wine glasses and how to signal a waiter for an escorted walk to the bathroom.

Various diners volunteered that they shouldn't or wouldn't eat certain foods -- mango, nuts, beets and chocolate. Organizers dutifully took notes.

Then, as soon as the diners were seated with the lights out, unable to see anyone or anything, the supposedly sophisticated New Yorkers somehow became anything but.

The dinner erupted into a melee of shouting patrons, crashing glassware and flying slices of bread. As plates shattered, diners burst into rounds of adolescent cheering.

A loud splash was followed by a woman's shriek. "Ow. You spilled that all over me. I am so wet," she said somewhere in the dark, obviously the victim of a misplaced, or misfired, drink.

As she tasted her first course, Jennifer, a 28-year-old financial analyst, whined: "It's fishy. I hate that."

The appetizer was a plate of sweet peppers stuffed with codfish and served with guacamole in truffle aioli sauce. The two entrees were pan-seared sea scallops with butternut squash cake in mushroom cilantro sauce and roasted baby lamb in phyllo dough with artichokes and tomatoes. And the dessert was butternut squash ice cream in a dark chocolate and truffle sauce.

A few diners defiantly lit cigarette lighters for illumination. Others booed, complaining that the little lights ruined the experience.

Nina, 31, a pharmaceutical saleswoman, said the man next to her, a total stranger, kept rubbing her back.

"I can't stand that," she said, adding that she was disappointed in the dinner after earlier dinners had won good write-ups in online promotions.

MARRIAGE PROPOSAL

The dinners are organized by Cosmo Party, which runs events for singles in New York City.

"It's for singles who want to meet new people and for couples who want to have a good time," said organizer Jerome Chasques. Cosmo Party has done about a half dozen "Dinners in the Dark," he said.

"All of them are really different because of the people, of course. I don't know why this was the most rowdy one," he said.

Some, he said, are quite serious, recalling a man who proposed to his girlfriend of six months during another recent "Dinner in the Dark."

This dinner was clearly not a hit with Jennifer, the financial analyst. She finally left in a huff, declaring even her dessert "disgusting."

"I'm a picky eater, and a picky eater shouldn't come here," she said. "Alcohol, it's the only thing you can trust," she muttered as she headed back in the direction of the bar.

Some loved the experience.

"We were just copping feels under the table. I felt like I was in kindergarten," said Sabreena, a 33-year-old attorney, standing amid broken glass in the littered dining room after the meal. "And I like the fact you feel your food. I ate with my hands."

Claire, also a 33-year-old attorney, conceded that "Dinners in the Dark" aren't for everyone.

"If you're going to complain about the food, complain about the dark, you need to go somewhere else," she said.

Her complaint? "You needed more wine," Claire said. "The wine needs to flow a little more freely."


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