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Dining blindfolded

<p>Photo Credit: BILL HUGHES</p><p>Patrick &#8220;Pirate&#8221; Watson owns a 1955 Cadillac and a 1929 Hudson rat rod he built at Cactus Flyer, his friend Mike Kelley&#8217;s shop. </p>

Photo Credit: BILL HUGHES

Patrick “Pirate” Watson owns a 1955 Cadillac and a 1929 Hudson rat rod he built at Cactus Flyer, his friend Mike Kelley’s shop.

<p>Photo Credit: BILL HUGHES</p><p>Junkyard Pirates shows off their flag at Rat City Rukkus car show. The group was founded by Patrick Watson, Scott Hill and Kelly Humphries.</p>

Photo Credit: BILL HUGHES

Junkyard Pirates shows off their flag at Rat City Rukkus car show. The group was founded by Patrick Watson, Scott Hill and Kelly Humphries.

In 1999, a group called The Blind-Liecht Foundation, founded by three blind people and one partially sighted man, opened a restaurant called Blindekuh in Zurich. (Its name is the German word for the game “blind man’s bluff.”) Customers dine in complete darkness in order “to promote dialogue and mutual understanding between sighted and blind.” By 2006, similar establishments had opened in other european cities. Now a similar concept has come to Las Vegas, in the form of The Eclipse Dark Dining Experience: a series of meals held the first and third Thursdays of the month at The Artisan’s Mood restaurant.

Nothing could appeal to me less. For me, the ambience of a room, the presentation of a plate and a comfortable environment are integral parts of any good meal. Still, I was intrigued. How would I perceive one of my favorite activities without access to one of my senses? So when my wife and I walked into The Artisan for the first Eclipse Dark Dining Experience on June 7, I wasn’t concerned with the quality of the food or service. I was interested in how I would react to such a strange new dining experience.

At Blindekuh, the entire staff is blind, and the dining area is completely black. The Artisan’s servers are sighted, however, so the room is dimly lit and guests wear padded mask.

The meal ($80) consists of two appetizers, an entrée and dessert. If guests reserve online, they can select a meat, seafood, vegetarian or “chef’s course” meal. Those who don’t specify in advance get the “chef’s course.” Unlimited wine is available for $15 (I passed, not wanting to obscure any more of my senses). Dinner lasts a little over an hour, after which guests remove their masks, view the dishes and discuss the experience.

On the first course, a Japanese noodle dish (the menu will change at each future dinner), I did a fairly good job of eating with my utensils. By the end of the meal, however, most diners had resorted to eating with their fingers — even on messy dishes like fried chicken with mashed potatoes. Of course, when nobody can see you, being a slob is no big deal. (At one point I even picked some pork out of my teeth without caring. God only knows what the staff thinks of me!)

The first thing to strike me about eating in the dark was that my sense of smell was far less helpful than I’d expected. On only one dish — Asian noodles in a miso broth — was I able to discern anything about its character simply by sniffing.

My sense of hearing, on the other hand, was definitely heightened. Despite the instrumental music in the background, and the fact that tables were spread throughout the room, I could clearly hear every conversation around me. The lack of privacy was a little intimidating at first. I found myself limiting my conversation with my wife for fear it would seem trivial to other diners. Silence, on the other hand, was unsettling — when you can’t see your dining companion, you constantly talk simply to assure each other you’re still there.

The conversation problem was eventually solved by guessing the identity of various ingredients. As guests overheard each other’s theories, the entire room began to interact as if we were one communal table. (In the post-meal discussion, nearly everyone suggested larger group tables for future events.)

Eating in the dark proved troublesome on several levels. While trying to guess ingredients was fun, it can be problematic. My wife, for example, discarded several tasty pieces of crispy pork skin because she thought they were bones.

Being unable to pinpoint which component of a dish I wanted on a particular bite was also annoying. I might have discovered a plate contained chicken, mashed potatoes and mushrooms, but finding another mushroom meant feeling around until I felt it. In most instances I gave up and just ate whatever my fingers touched.

The relationship with the service staff was also strange. They were generally silent, so when I’d hear a glass being refilled or received an unexpected answer to a question I asked my wife, it was a bit disconcerting. And I had no desire to raise my hand to have one of them escort me to the restroom!

Las Vegas’ Eclipse Dark Dining Experience is much more of a novelty than a social experiment. Any insight I was expecting into the life of a blind person was minimal at best. (To suggest otherwise would border on insulting.) Like “blind man’s bluff,” this is a game — and the larger your party, the more fun you’re likely to have.

The Eclipse Dark Dining Experience Mood at The Artisan, 1501 W. Sahara Ave., 608-6595. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog,