FOOD- THE DISH- Blind tasting: Fellini's debuts dining in the dark

Dan and Charles Epstein, shown here in front of their Downtown restaurant, Eppie's, a year ago, appear to have followed through on their promise to make it the "best fast-casual" restaurant in town.

If you're an adult (and not blind or still a virgin), there are probably only a few things you feel comfortable doing with the lights out. But in Paris (of course), people are doing something else in the dark: dining out. 

 At Dans le Noir (In the Dark) diners are shown a menu in the reception area and must decide what they want before they enter the restaurant. Not only is the dining room dark as a cave, but the servers are blind. Opened in association with a society for the blind, Dans le Noir is apparently all the rage (another has opened in London); a dining experience that highlights the sensory aspects rather than the social, and encourages people not to judge their food, or the people they're with, by appearances. Hmm... sounds like the perfect date if you always have trouble with spinach in your teeth. 

On Wednesday, October 24, Fellini's #9 will give Charlottesvillians a similar experience: the chance to bite into something they can't see. (That's an experience that probably wasn't unprecedented in the old Fellini's days.)

"Yes, it's all the rage in Europe, and so we decided to jump on the trendy bandwagon," says Fellini's owner Jacie Dunkle describing what she's calling a Halloween Dinner. While Fellini's will have no blind or blindfolded servers ( Dunkle says she'll be using unstemmed glasses and offering hot towels after each course for obvious reasons), she does promise that patrons will be eating in the dark. 

"I don't want to divulge the entire menu, as it may ruin your blind dining experience," she says, "but I think food like prosciutto-wrapped oysters, smoked trout, and our various desserts are sure to get palates tingling."

Dunkle suggests calling for reservations, as space is limited to 20 fumbling people. 

"We look forward to not being able to see anyone," says Dunkle.

Sheesh, talk about a perfect blind date! Just be careful not to put too many forks in your ear.

Ode to Eppie's

Dish dropped into Eppie's on the Downtown Mall last week, and when co-owner Dan Epstein (he owns the place with his brother, Charles) mentioned they were going to start offering some selected weekly specials (like their popular Friday Chicken and Dumplings and Monday Fiesta Bowl, a kind of burrito sans tortilla), Dish was reminded of a conversation with the then 26-year-old Epstein in January 2006, before the brothers opened the venue. "I think we can run the best fast-casual restaurant in Charlottesville," Epstein boldly predicted.

Today, Epstein blushes at such boldness, as he humbly admits that the intricacies of running a restaurant were not what he expected. Indeed, if Dish were betting, we'd have bet that the Epsteins weren't going to make it. 

 "My brother and I thought we knew what we were doing," said Epstein recently, describing grueling 15-hours days in the beginning, "but we really didn't. "

Epstein says that a lot of things they tried just didn't work, but after experimenting with ways to innovate, he thinks they slowly learned to get better. He also credits his crew, most of whom have been with the Epsteins for a year now, an eternity in the restaurant biz. "We've also been able to add specials because we've got a really great, loyal crew in the kitchen right now," he says. 

Indeed, it appears Dish would have lost the bet. As many would agree, there are few places on the Downtown Mall where busy diners can get such a hearty, home-cooked lunch so quickly for such a reasonable price. Perhaps Eppie's has become what Epstein predicted it would be. 

The Fat Daddy sings

It's always been hard for Dish to imagine a more off-putting name for a restaurant than Fat Daddy's. Of course, that might mean we have some body-image issues of our own, but considering how competitive the restaurant business is, coining such a derogatory name would appear to be a death wish– like naming your restaurant Porker's, Are You Finished With That? or The Double Chin.

However, on the contrary, Fat Daddy's has been a popular hangout in Albemarle Square for over five years, and their signature Friday night karaoke events were proof that the spot never was a place for neurotic, self-conscious types.

Unfortunately, Friday, October 12 was the last night for karaoke at Fat Daddy's. In fact, it was the last night for Fat Daddy's period. According to owner Gail Weakley, the restaurant has been sold and she understands that the new owners plan to re-open it as an Italian restaurant. As for parting words? Weakley keeps it short and simple.

"Fat Daddy's would like to thank all  our loyal customers and friends for your support over the last five years," she says.