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Dining in the dark heads to One Door East in Fort Lauderdale

Strangely enough, eating in a pitch-black dining room heightens your awareness of what you’re eating. At least that’s what Greg Kovach promises with his Dining in the Dark program being launched Monday, June 25, at Fort Lauderdale’s One Door East restaurant, the small plates eatery associated and adjacent to Valentino Cucina Italiana.

“This is a sensory experience [but] with food,” explains Greg Kovach, a self-described dining-in-the-dark specialist. “Most people in the dining room are so involved with other things besides their food. And with social media they are taking pictures of the food and texting. They’re not really involved with the food or each other. When you go to the dark dining room and turn off your cell phone … you’re much more involved with the food. People are asking, ‘What are we eating?’ They’re laughing, talking and having a good time. For approximately two hours you’re involved with just that environment. There’s no outside stimulation going on.”

Largely credited with starting in Germany, dining in the dark occasionally used sight-impaired servers when the experience first started roughly 20 years ago. Here in the United States, the Foundation Fighting Blindness has hosted dining in the dark events to raise awareness.

Kovach says that while other restaurants in South Florida may occasionally offer a dining-in-the-dark experience, as far as he knows One Door East is the only one to make it a regular program. At the restaurant just south of the Henry E. Kinney Tunnel on U.S. 1, each six-course dinner is different for each session. There are no utensils, but — yes — there are extra napkins.

Kovach’s experience comes from managing dining-in-the-dark dinners at Market 17 for seven and half years. When that Port Everglades restaurant closed in February, he began researching where he could transfer the program, looking at restaurants from Miami to Palm Beach. He was looking for haute cuisine, a chef-driven restaurant and, of course, a private dining room where lighting could be extinguished without disturbing guests in the main dining room.

“I went to Valentino’s many times and sat at the chef’s table … for their six-course tasting menu,” Kovach says. “I started talking to chef Giovanni [Rocchio] about dining in the dark. And he said, ‘I’ve always wanted to try that. I never had time off.’ Giovanni never takes time off unless it Sundays. Anyway, on the way out I talked to the other business partner, Elke [Quintana], and she said she wanted to try it. And in my head I went ding, ding, ding: Great food, independently owned, fine dining, chef-driven and they have private dining rooms.”

He adds, “A lot of dining-in-the-dark experiences focus on the experience and not the food. Here I knew the focus would be on the food.”

Dining in the Dark is at One Door East, 620 S. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Seatings are at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. After Monday’s debut, the regular schedule will be Tuesdays-Saturdays in July. The cost is $105 per person. Add a wine paring for an additional $45. Gratuity and tax is automatically added to the bill. For reservations, call 954-225-6430.

rhagwood@southflorida.com

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