Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dining in the Dark

“A strawberry! That was a strawberry! Omgawd, Nick! Did you taste that strawberry?! 
I love strawberries. I’m so surprised there was one in there. Wasn’t that awesome?” 
I don't normally get this excited about strawberries. But when dining in absolute complete blackness, you’re ecstatic when the food on your fork even makes it to your mouth. You can’t see your plate, your date, your hand - you can’t tell if your eyes are open or closed. Besides sight, every sense is intensified x1000. You’ve never been more observant.

As if entering a haunted house, I reach out for Nick’s shoulders as he holds onto our vision-impaired waitress, Beatrice. Along with the rest of the wait staff here, she is legally blind. She guides us from the V Lounge bar, behind a black curtain, down a little hallway, into a pitch-black dining room with stale, warm air. I can tell the space is small because the conversations bounce off the walls. Beatrice guides us to our chairs as our eyes try to adjust to the blackness. Can’t help but think of an old country song by Deana Carter, “Did I Shave My Legs For This?”

The salad course is first. It is the most frustrating and difficult part of the meal. The lettuce doesn’t stay on the fork because he knows I can’t reprimand him. Half ends up on the table amongst the rose petals, a quarter in my lap, and a quarter makes it to my stomach. Barbaric, animal-style face-to-plate gestures come out because no one can see me and I’m hungry, dammit! Once I think I’m finished, my hands feel the table in search of wine. 
I take a sip. Water.

My salad plate - Before & After

Beatrice places a “chef’s surprise” in the middle of the table. Nick and I each cautiously drink it from little shot glasses. We discuss. Potato soup! Beatrice congratulates us for getting it right. The whole night is one big experiment & guessing game that I hope isn’t being videotaped with night-vision. Though, if it is - gold. There’d be men with their eyes closed and soup on their chin and smiling women with spinach in their teeth, hunched over with their legs open. Your guard is completely down in the dark. During the course of the meal, one man at a nearby table begins to sing "When I Fall In Love." Out of the blue. At first it’s a watery attempt, but as more and more people stop talking to listen he gains confidence. Eventually, he has the entire room’s attention and is belting at the top of his lungs. The impromptu serenade is followed by a thunderous applause. And at most restaurants, the wait staff is the only one singing ‘Happy Birthday.’ But here, every table enthusiastically joins in 3 times.

My main course is roasted herb chicken, sticky rice, and steamed vegetables. Smells herb-y and chicken-y. Luckily, the meat is already cut up. *High five* (Wait, try that again. Yes!) There’s a sense of accomplishment after every bite. I can’t help but think how hard this would be to do every moment of every day as all of the wait staff here must. My eyes hurt from searching for light, focusing in and out like a camera lens, and I'm so grateful that my vision will be restored moments after I walk out of here.

I hit plate, a lot. So I think it’s clean, but I have no idea how much I consumed. It may have been a chicken nugget or an entire bird. "OWWW!" While looking for his throat, Nick hit his beer hard against his teeth. We just have to make it through desert. 

After repeatedly gushing over how good the chocolate lava cake is (arguably the best part of the meal), Beatrice escorts us out of obscurity. We stumble through the curtain with full bellies, a stained shirt, possibly a chipped tooth and a newfound appreciation. Now, let there be light.

Hanging out in V Lounge before dinner

Know this before the lights go out:

1. Reservations usually fill up 2 weeks in advance.

2. Ordering the meal takes place before entering the darkroom. Here's the menu. 

3. Dining in the Dark doesn’t supply bibs. Take it from Nick’s dress shirt, bring your own!

4. It’s photo darkroom dark. If struggling to put film in the canisters frustrates you - be prepared & patient. The experience is worth it.

5. Stick around V Lounge after dinner; it turns into a club at night. It’s a great place for a group thing because there’s no cover. I had my birthday here a few years ago, super fun. This night, we tore it up to a live 80’s band. 

One more,  Nick. I think your eyes are closed.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Paradise. Riviera Maya.

I've never died and gone to heaven. Ok, I've never died. But I have had the absolute pleasure of staying at Maroma Resort in Mexico's beautiful Riviera Maya, which must be the closest thing to heaven on earth. 

I live in California. I’ve been to beaches before, but never like this. The Mayan Riviera is on the eastern coast of Mexico touching the Caribbean Sea. The ocean here is like bath water with a dash of salt. The sun toasts your skin like a marshmallow over a fire and you feel so ooey-gooey happy that nothing else in the world seems to matter. It’s hard to put into words - the bliss that a paradise like this evokes. Maybe this will help...

Compared to the behemoth monster hotels popping up along Mexico’s Caribbean coast catering to Cancun’s spring breakers, Maroma is a world away. Technically, it’s 45 minutes away, but it may as well be on another planet. The hotel tops off at 65 rooms, which means even at capacity you can always find a bed on the beach. (And I do mean an actual bed. On the quiet beach. Mojito in hand. I’m making myself jealous.)

The resort sits on 25 acres of beach on a 500 acre coconut plantation; way more beachfront property than most of the newer resorts in the Yucatan Peninsula that live inland with limited coastal access. Once you arrive at the Maroma entrance, the actual hotel is another 10 minute ride through a jungle of plants and animals (keep your eyes peeled!) before arriving at the pearly gates of paradise. 

If I had to pick my favorite time of day at the resort…no, I can’t decide. Though, I will mention the morning and evening. Breakfast can be eaten in the restaurant on the beach or on your private balcony. Outside of this vacation, starting the day in a robe drinking coffee and eating a mole poblano vegetable omelette on your balcony overlooking a canopy of tropical trees with birds singing in harmony only happens in a Cymbalta commercial. The evening is equally magical as the garden pathways are lit with lanterns and glowing blue lights to guide your way. Rows of candles and a sweet treat are waiting for you back at the room.

Your heart rate is so relaxed by now, your body thinks you’re dead. Get the adrenaline going and take advantage of the resort’s complimentary snorkeling excursion. It’s a nice boat ride on the water and if you’re lucky you may get to see some pretty fishies! (I looked into the stone cold eyes of a sting ray and showed him who’s boss. Unfortunately, there are no witnesses to confirm.) The Tulum ruins and a bunch of fresh water cenotes are about an hour away. I definitely recommend a tour guide to learn more than meets the eye, especially for non-Spanish speakers like myselfo.

Everyone is so nice at Maroma and in the Mayan Riviera in general. You'll be saying 'hola!' long after the airport - only no one says it back. 

Wait! There’s more:

1. Bring plenty of sunblock. You’ll need it. And one bottle in the resort’s shop costs $35!

2. Let the hotel hail you a cab and visit Playa Del Carmen, a nearby town 20 minutes south. There are restaurants and shops to do any souvenir or duty-free shopping.

3. The bed sheets at Maroma smell like freshly baked donuts. This is irrelevant, but it sure is nice. 

Here fishy, fishy, fishy. Maybe they don't speak English...