We turned off of the main road and onto a darker, dimly lit street; neon signs for surrounding businesses and bright streetlights were replaced by dark, dreary industrial warehouses. My compatriot and I had heard of Hidden Dinner and knew that they were secretive; the folks behind the operation, chef Anahita Naderi, event designer Betty Lang and web/print designer Justin Paul Veiga almost preferred to remain in the shadows, only barely acquiescing to the creation of the Yelp page I found them through.
Even so, we hadn't expected this level of secrecy and seclusion. As we
drove around the back (as the directions e-mailed to us two days prior
had instructed), it was almost surreal in its mystique. Paper bag
lanterns lined the side of the building and led to the back entrance to
the venue. As we passed by the door looking for parking we saw
people in blindfolds.
Blindfolds? Warehouses? The whole ordeal started to feel like a horror movie.
Once we got in, though, we were greeted by smiles, and our worries were
put at relative ease. We put the blindfolds on and waited to be taken to a
dinner table behind a curtain. We were seated, met the people across
from us and exchanged awkward blind handshakes. It became apparent that
we weren't going to end up on the news.
Hidden Dinner was started by Naderi, Lang and Veiga in an effort to
break away from traditions, stuffy restaurant environments and humdrum
regularity. Now, a year later (ours was the first-anniversary Hidden
Dinner), they are starting to expand; what started as a night between a
few friends has now turned into exclusive culinary adventures, tickets
for which are now selling out in less than two days' time.
Each Hidden Dinner has behind it a general theme or idea. Past dinners
have varied, but the plans have recently become more elaborate. The one
before ours was titled “¡Vamos a España!” and featured flamenco dancers
to accompany a menu of Spanish dishes.
When the meal started, the concept behind it became a little more clear;
each of the thirteen mini dishes served that night resembled an
important culinary memory for a bunch of the Hidden Dinner staff and
their friends and family. As each dish was being brought to us, the
story behind it would play on speakers. Titled “Memory Bites,” the idea
was for the blindfolds to help us better visualize how the food
corresponded to the story; our minds eye would fill in the gap between
what we were tasting and what we were supposed to see.
Dishes ranged from a fruit medley that contained a Persian cucumber
sprinkled with lava salt to a pork rice porridge; from charred corn
doused in saltwater to ambrosia; from corned beef and cabbage to lamb
mansaf. Each was doled out in a small portion (some, like the ambrosia
and a spinach and pomegranate saute, were served in large Asian soup
spoons), and though the amounts of food were never large, the meal was
still satisfying. Extreme care was taken in each dish not only to make
the flavors mesh, but to make it easy to figure out blindfolded.
The mansaf was exquisite (several people even asked for a second
helping), bits of lamb going perfectly with basmati rice on flatbread;
the sauce beneath the corned beef and cabbage was bright and tangy,
cutting the savoriness of a dish that so often turns overly salty. A
chile verde sauce finished off the meatloaf, offering similar assistance
to the salty, meaty, cheesy mass below it.
The flavors were all outstanding, if sometimes a bit hard to string
together between courses. The ham, cheese and chip sandwich followed the
mansaf, and though the sandwich was good in its simplicity, it perhaps
may have been better earlier in the night to avoid comparison to the
much more complex spices of the lamb. (It always seems a bit tactless to
criticize these dishes, though, given that the people whose memories
they represented were in the room. How would you feel if somebody called
one of your most cherished memories oversimplified and out of place?)
Though the concept of the blindfolds and listening to the people's
stories was great in theory, most people ditched their blindfolds so
that they could see their food and the people around them; through no
fault of anyone's in particular, the individual speech accompaniments to the dishes seemed to get lost in the
conversations held by people around the table. Some of the diners (six
or so of the thirty-two present) kept faithful to their blind
experience, but most (regrettably including myself, though I put the
blindfold back on whenever a new dish came out) indulged in seeing the
person across from them. Even when the more elaborate details of the
night lost out to socializing and red wine, the concept behind “Memory
Bites” still prevailed to some extent.
Not many details can be shared, but I've been assured that the folks
behind Hidden Dinner have big plans coming up; sign up to be on their
e-mail list at hiddendinner.com to receive notifications about upcoming
Each event is unique, and there's no way to tell when
the Hidden Dinner will come around again. Keep your fingers on this
pulse, though, and you will be rewarded the next time Naderi and her
crew come out of hiding.