I had no idea what to expect at last week’s Dark Dinner at the Wishing Well. I had heard of this type of special dinner event, designed to heighten the whole experience using your other senses of touch, taste and hearing, but I wasn’t sure what lay in store for us. What I didn’t expect was it to be quite so much fun, and so funny. After a nice non-dark cocktail hour we went into the private dining room where there were black blindfolds at each place setting. Wishing Well owner Bob Lee gave us a little introduction without giving too much away, urging us all not to cheat and to just go with the experience and before we knew it the blindfolds were on.
There was of course the initial nervous laughter at the idea of sitting there in the restaurant blindfolded, not really knowing what to expect, and then our host told us that we were going to go on a Global Street Food journey, and the music started. The first sounds to be played for us were some NYC street sounds and the bustling city energy buzzed in the air for a few minutes with an incredibly contagious excitement. All of a sudden it stopped, and everyone in the room went silent for a split second right before “Born in the USA” came on to cheers and more laughter. Soon the waitstaff was expertly weaving their way through the tables soundlessly putting our first dish in front of us.
The first dish definitely sticks out in my memory because it was the first time you had to just put your hands on something and figure it out. Right away people were shouting out tips, “It’s on a stick!” and “Don’t put your fingers in the bowl there’s something in there!” again with much, much laughter. Once everyone took a bite they would share their guesses with the table and we quickly figured out it was an incredibly delicious twist on a classic corn dog, Merguez Sausage en croute, with a spicy whole grain mustard in the bowl to dip it in. I thought having the blindfold would really take some getting used to, but it was so much fun to try to figure out what was in front of me, to have the scent be the first thing you base your guess on, and to gingerly try to touch your way to guessing what dish it is. Also placed at our side was a little specialty drink to go with the dish, this time it was a hard cider from Bellwether Farms which had the perfect slight sweetness to contrast with the mustard. We spent the rest of our time with the American street food listening to some Stevie Wonder and a favorite classic of mine, American Woman.
The next voice we heard was a message from our “Captain” who explained where we would be going on our Global Street Food journey. By this time everyone was fully in the swing of the Dark Dinner and every table in the room was alive with chatting and laughing. The sounds of “All You Need Is Love” from the Beatles was met with more cheering again and our table started wondering what kind of British food would soon be in front of us. There are no utensils at the Dark Dinner, it’s all eaten with your hands, and you think you actually have a chance of figuring out what you’ll be eating. The scent, as I said, meets you first, and the incredible scent of the British Beef Pie that met me was mouthwatering. Tucked into the nicely hot pie was some melting blue cheese, the absolutely most perfect sharp contrast to the tender beef and the pie crust was buttery and flaky. The pie was paired with some cream stout, some Rolling Stones, some Winehouse and finished off with some Beatles. Probably my favorite course all around.
Part of the fun of the evening was chatting with our table mates while blindfolded, sort of hilarious and pretty much everything anyone said was funny because of it. There were a few cheaters in the room (cough cough, Suvir) but that just added to the fun and some of us received some mysterious swats from napkins. The feel in the room was definitely a happy one, and as you can probably guess there is really an endless supply of jokes you can come up with while eating blindfolded, having a few drinks and listening to some good music.
Italy was our next stop, with an absolutely perfect little Asiago Fresca Arancini with some crispy proscuitto on top of a tiny dollop of pomodoro sauce to dip it in, with Pavarotti’s La Boeheme filling in the background. When you’re blindfolded the experience of trying to eat something delicately takes so much more finesse and I cradled that little arancini in my hand carefully avoiding dropping any of it since it was so good. The wine they paired with this dish was impeccable. At the time, blindfolded, I tasted it as a really full, deep red which I later found out was a Bisceglia 2007 Aglianico del Vulture Gudarrà, something I must try again (blindfolded or not).
Greece was up next and we were practically rubbing our hands together like little kids in excitement now that we felt like old pros at this whole eating blindfolded thing. Well, I was a pro. Sean had already spilled multiple things on his shirt. But to say we were excited would be putting it mildly. I’m a feta addict, and I was thrilled to taste that familiar favorite zing alongside tzatziki and olives with little tender lamb meatballs. The flavors were spot on, and I swear being blindfolded and tasting the texture differences between the creamy feta and tzatziki and the olives was definitely heightened. A few perfect sips of a smooth red wine from Santorini went with the lamb deliciously.
We entered Korea to the sounds of Gangnum Style and this really brought out the clapping and laughing. This was the only dish I predicted correctly and the little pork bun that was placed in front of us was probably the best I have had so far. Juicy pork belly in a perfect little bun, it was paired with a sangria possessing a rich and sweet persimmon flavor.
We were all waiting for Mexico, and the lobster and sweet corn chimichanga that came out did not disappoint. The jalapeno creme fraiche had the right amount of heat, cooled by some fresh avocado and Sean said that he could have eaten three more. Hook’s margarita simply can’t be beat, and everyone at our table agreed this was probably our favorite drink of the evening. It was perfection in margarita form.
We finished our Global Street Food adventure back in America with a creamy and sweet Saranac Root Beer float. It was amazing how quickly you knew it was root beer once they put it down in front of you. The creaminess of the ice cream came through so strongly and it was a nice little finish to the world tour. At the end of the meal what surprised me most was how little I wanted to take the blindfold off. When we first started I worried that I would be itching to get it off, or I would peek, but it really did add such an incredibly fun and new spin that it was disappointing to see it end. As “American Pie” played we all took our blindfolds off, and there was much applause and cheers for Executive Chef Patrick Longton, who really outdid himself. It was interesting to see the complete menu afterwards (we didn’t see it beforehand at all) and to fill in any question marks we may have had with the dishes, if there were any little flavors you just couldn’t pinpoint.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, I have to say again just how FUN this dinner was. The novelty of trying something so totally new and out of my usual comfort zone was just energizing and so very enjoyable. It was a little like being a kid again, there was a playfulness to the evening that I haven’t experienced in a while. It’s not something you get a chance to do that often, and that is also part of the appeal, you don’t get a chance to let it get boring. Not that it would ever get boring the way they do it at the Wishing Well. Every part was executed so thoughtfully and seamlessly that I really could go once a month and find it fun each time. The Chef’s take on authentic street food dishes was incredible, staying true to the originals but also making them his own. I cannot tell you enough how much I am looking forward to the next one they hold, it’s something you can’t experience anywhere else around here. I highly recommend you get yourself on the list for the next one and I have to tell you they fill up fast. Before I left that evening I told Bob for sure to count me in. Whatever the Dark Dinner journey is next time it is one that I do not want to miss.
The Wishing Well is located at 745 Saratoga Road (Route 9) in Saratoga Springs. Contact them at 518-584-7640, and go like them on facebook here.