Some restaurants will do quite a lot for a little bit of attention. Eat, a locavore-friendly joint in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, is politely asking its customers to please shut up for once.
That's the basic thrust of its "silent dinners," a once-a-month special initiated by the restaurant's managing chef, Nicholas Nauman, in August. Inspired by a trip to an Indian monastery, the events have proven surprisingly popular, bringing the business to capacity on several occasions. Turns out that in a city not known for quiet—and an area of Brooklyn where more and more residents can afford to cough up $40 for the prix fixe meal—the sounds of silence are indeed welcome.
The Guardian's Hermione Hoby, for instance, approached the affair with skepticism—"I had thought that enforced silence would feel punitive, like a school assembly," she writes—but came away refreshed:
Instead, it feels like a reprieve. I calm down, slow down and take a long time over every mouthful.
As we wait for the main course, I hear five brisk grinds of a pepper mill from the open kitchen. Later, there is a meerkat Mexican wave of heads when attention turns to the noise of cream being whipped. This—hearing the small sounds that go into preparing a dish—somehow seems rather touching.
Huffington Post editor Carey Polis had a bumpy start as well: "When the salad course arrived, I was actually extremely self-conscious," she narrates. By soup, something clicked:
I was happy to eat quietly, silently observe the setting and think about the food I was putting in my body. I was calm. I felt more relaxed than I had the whole weekend. There was nothing to distract me at this dinner—the noises from the kitchen and the movements of other diners eventually became part of the background.
Another diner told Brooklyn Daily that the meal heightened the "sensuality":
“The language of eating was gone and it was much more about the sensuality,” said Frank Lyon of Cobble Hill.
And then there was the mother of two 15-year-old boys who, despite not attending, told the New York Daily News that doing so was "kind of a fantasy" (though she speculated that it would be "incredibly difficult").
What explains the appeal? The cynical answer is that it's just another restaurant gimmick, filed alongside the ice bars and pitch-black restaurants that have had their 15 minutes in newspaper heaven. The scientific answer points to research arguing that noise actually harms your ability to taste. The local answer may be that New York's restaurants are simply too insufferably loud.
But, more simply, we suggest considering what silence represents: a brief respite from the daily stressors of modern life, particularly in the second most stressed out city in the country. No wonder Metro North's "silent cars" have been a relative success, and no wonder some have been surprised by the relaxation afforded by Eat's noiseless meals. Restaurants can be harbinger of anxiety as well—be it small talk with acquaintances or yelling over the din to get your waiter's attention—and this, perhaps, is a respite.
Thankfully, you don't have to shell out $40 to reap its benefits. Recent research shows that anyone can enjoy a silent dinner on the cheap at home.