Dinner in the Dark: Meet, Vibe and Dine – Blindfolded

Dinner In The Dark is here in Austin and taking Central Texas by storm! Leandra Kentish, founder and CEO of Round The Way, LLC has brought her love for food, the culture and carefully curated Dinner In The Dark, and foodies can’t get enough of it. I was skeptical and now I’m convinced. Everyone should attend at least once!

It’s around 7:35 pm and I’m headed to an event to eat – blindfolded. This is definitely a step outside of my comfort zone due to me being a picky eater and unable to eat in the dark. Yes, people do it, to my surprise as well. My GPS takes me to the center of Austin, a quaint little neighborhood ducked off of Anderson Ln.  Anderson Lane is a well-known high-traffic, multicultural area; and yet two blocks to the right, I am teleported into a neighborhood with people walking their dogs at night.

I arrive at 8:05; fashionably late, yet hungry, of course. I hear some chatter behind an enclosed patio. I nervously approach the entrance to the sidewalk, hoping I don’t walk up to the wrong group in this neighborhood. Immediately, I’m awestruck. MELANIN! It was my people. While I only knew two of the twelve or so individuals there, I knew I had found the right place! I see blazers, headwraps, hoops, fros, skinny jeans, the gamet. My tribe!

As I approach the actual patio door, I’m greeted by Leandra. She looks gorgeous. Baby girl has a black, silk, fitted dress with the heart cut out of the lower chest (you know, where Rihanna’s famous tat is). Her hair is pulled back, and to be honest, I don’t remember her shoes because as soon as we’re close enough, she hugs me. She’s so sweet and welcoming that I forget my nervousness. As soon as we stop embracing, I am greeted by the rest of the group: men, women, young professionals. Some I recognize in passing but none I’ve met personally. 

Leandra proceeds to check our comfort and then moves to the center of the u-shape and is accompanied by Aprevino CEO & Founder, Alex James, and Guest Chef for the night and owner of Desire Catering, Martin Eason. They introduce themselves and it is revealed that Alex has just returned from Italy for Aprevino, her wine education business. She explains that she personally sourced and paired all of the wines featured with our four-course meal prepared that night. Chef Martin then introduces himself. He informs the group that he prepared the dinner based on our dietary/allergy guidelines and will explain each course as they are served, as it’s a surprise. 

Leandra returns with a champagne flute and directs me to a wonderfully decorated table containing frozen fruit, more champagne, and CBD tubes to add to your drink should one fancy it. She also explains an ice breaker consisting of choosing yellow or green slips of paper with various types of wines. The yellow strips are the wine names and their various descriptions are typed on the green strips. The goal is to go around the room and meet everyone in hopes to match your wine description to its corresponding description. I never found my match that night. Story of my life – anyway.

Right away, I notice the music! The playlist was perfect and really helped to set the mood. I missed some of the songs as I’m mingling with others in the group and get to know their respective backgrounds. But whoever curated the playlist had an excellent taste in music! I continue to move around the crowd and meet and network with other entrepreneurs in the music industry and connect and promise to connect with them later. It’s amazing to be around these Black people, my age, who all have different backgrounds, and more, just getting along in a chill, unforced environment. I can’t help but soak it in.

After about 20 minutes or so of appreciating my glimpse of Wakanda in Austin, Leandra announces that it’s time for dinner. We are ushered into another room. The room is staged beautifully. Dim lights, rose petals everywhere, with three royally plated tables positioned in a u-shape form in the center of the room. Our plates have a beautiful black, silk blindfold on it. Leandra urges us to sit anywhere but to sit next to one another. I am sitting next to a President of AAUL-YP, Kobla (right), and a lovely woman named Micah to my left. I had previously worked with Kobla and AAUL-YP for an event. We had met briefly and planned to touch base at a later date. So it seemed fate to accidentally run into another.

She explains that she personally sourced and paired all of the wines featured with our four-course meal prepared that night. Chef Martin then introduces himself and informs us that he prepared the dinner based on dietary/allergy requirements and will explain each course as they are served, as it’s a surprise.

a good dining experience should involve all senses

And lastly, Leandra steps forward and explains that the courses will go from light to dark in terms of color and ingredients used. She explains that we will be blindfolded for the first bite and sip of wine with each course. The purpose is to challenge us to use our other senses as we enjoy our meal. “So often we eat with our eyes and a good dining experience should involve all senses,” she says. After everyone has taken their first bite and sip, we will be instructed to remove our blindfolds and view what we’re eating as Chef Martin describes his meals. Alex will explain the wine pairings. Leandra encourages us to touch our table placements and try our best to familiarize ourselves and remember the plating before we place the blindfold the first time. And we begin.

Leandra instructs us to place our blindfolds on… About three minutes later, I feel a server place something in front of me. And oh… the smell… It was indescribable. I just know that I quickly forgot about my anxiety of not being able to see my food. We’re informed that it’s a finger food and we may use our hands. As my fingers stumble over my plate, I feel so silly. But a part of me really enjoys the expense of not knowing what I’m about to eat. The first bite… Salmon. Not overcooked.. Because you know… sometimes we feel we have to kill the animal twice. Chef Martin describes course 1 is: smoked salmon crostini with tarragon tartare, red onions, egg, and capers.

Alex steps in and asks us to take a sip of the wine. My hand travels all of what feels like 8 feet (probably 8 inches at most) searching for my wine. Alex describes the organization of the wine, the legs, tasting notes, pairings, and where we can purchase the wine. Her moments were very informative and engaging. Her descriptions of the wines were so on point and understandable. I’ve been to some tasting and felt out of place but Alex was very approachable and knowledgeable. While I don’t remember all of the names, the wines complemented the meals perfectly. The balance of the meal and the wine pairing was something I had never experience. I honestly felt like I hadn’t been living life before.

After Alex does her part, we’re encouraged to finish our courses and to enjoy ourselves. Between each course, the music is raised to a comfortable volume and everyone continues to fellowships and get to know one another. The team patiently waits for us to clear our plates before the table is cleared and prepared for the next course. With each course, our blindfolds are lowered and Leandra comes by and we’re gestured to smell something to cleanse your palate. 

Each course was better than its predecessor. I didn’t realize how much my eyes had deceived me before. I found myself eating things I would never touch had I recognized it. Chocolate, Chicken legs (I don’t know normally do dark meat), onions, and pork (I opted not to substitute for it). 

While I could go on about the food and overall experience, I would hate to spoil for the future attendees. But the experience was invigorating!  Leandra created a safe space to be unapologetically Black, enjoy food, and network. We discussed our various religions and differing backgrounds, occupations and goals, the state of America and our responsibility in it, all while joking and laughing until stomachs and sides were aching. Leandra challenged us to step outside our comfort zones and try something new while she thought of every detail. She and her team moved seamlessly and her passion for food, art, and travel was felt from the moment she greeted us at the door. 

Leandra and team will be taking Dinner In The Dark to San Antonio for Black Restaurant Week San Antonio (Feb 28 & 29) She’s also curating some Dinner In The Dark and various events for the popular singles Facebook Group Black Love Texas.

For more information and upcoming events visit rtwpopup.com or online everywhere @rtwpopup.

*THE FULL MENU FOR THE EVENING INCLUDED:

  • First Course: smoked salmon crostini with tarragon tartare, red onions, egg and capers
  • Second Course: steamed buns with fried pork belly, lemon aioli, onions, and scallions 
  • Third Course: lemon pepper baked chicken in a sweet pea purée with herb fingerling potatoes and fried leaks 
  • Fourth Course: chocolate mousse with fresh berries, salted chocolate piece, espresso balsamic and mint

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