Blind wine dinner at Columbia Restaurant: an eye-opening experience


The dinner, whose proceeds benefitted the Lion's Eye Institute, was hosted by Torres Winery from Spain who has fashioned this unique meal all over the world. It's designed to focus your senses away from your eyes, intensifying the food and wine experience. And you know what? It worked. Not only did it reach heights of fun, it allowed me to interpret (and guess) the gastronomy without any other interrupting, external stimuli.

The first five minutes proved the most challenging as I adjusted to the loss of control/worry about breaking or spilling a glass/my white shirt/loss of eyesight. In the picture above, you can see me fumbling for my lifeline, aka wine glass, but that was only the beginning. Finger food defined the first two courses, as I messily explored the plate with my hands. Since I'm OCD about hand cleanliness (after years working as a chef), this Ethopian-like eating provoked anxiety, to say the least. But it sure was tasty.

The best pairing was Torres Vina Esmeralda ($12) (earlier vintage review) and the grilled pear, serrano ham, cabrales cheese drizzled with a sherry reduction. It felt like a moist ball of food, the cheese oozing out from the layer of pear and ham. Not sure how it will take me to forget the slippery feel of it in my fingers. However, by far the most difficult (yet best prepared) course was a halibut, chorizo, charred tomato cream sauce with a fried zucchini flower, paired with the Torres Milmanda Chardonnay. As we blindly chased the fish around the dish with our misdirected utensils (my mouth chomped an empty fork more than a few times), we diners guessed about the fish, preparation and the fried thingie perched on top. Without eyesight and the ability to look around at my table's occupants, our guessing served as constant entertainment. I memorized everyone's voice by the end of the meal.

I would do this dinner again, in a heartbeat. I'm thinking about hosting one for CL Wine Club, in order for more people to experience the frustration, fun and appreciation for the senses -- three things accomplished by this mind-opening dinner.

In my job, I do a lot of cool foodie shit. But I must admit wine dinners — unless the winemaker is an exceptional speaker, the restaurant amazing or the wines mind-blowing — have lost their coolness factor. Yea, yea, sucks to be me... I know. But like any job with delicious perqs, even the most amazing events morph into "work."

But every so often, something surprises me. Like the "blindfolded" wine dinner I attended Wednesday night at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor. Literally, blindfolded, with fabric over my eyes and no peeking. The whole meal. And we didn't know the menu items until they hit our mouths. This might be nerve-wracking for some people but I was stoked. I'm the person who marches into a restaurant and gleefully asks for the chef's fantasy menu. 

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