Sensations at Sensorium DC

photo courtesy of Sensorium

The moment that I learn about Sensorium “the culinary and sensory experience featuring creative atmosphere and cutting-edge production,” I know this is something that I need to experience. When food and theater  combine as one, how can I miss out?

Sensorium is a pop-up dinner club held in a geodesic dome outside of the Nationals Stadium on the Capitol Riverfront. It is promoted as an evening of “delights, mysteries, and surprises for all five senses.” Sensorium seatings are limited to 30 people, and I wonder if I can convene an entire audience made up of people I know. How exciting! I spend an entire Zoomba class focused on identifying friends who might be willing to embark on this journey with me (this is great because focusing on something besides exercise makes the Zoomba class go faster).

I am concerned that the $150 per person price is a little steep.  If I remind people that this is dinner AND theater, I believe I can find some willing participants.

What happens next is a lot of back and forth emails with my friends as well as Sensorium Executive Chef and creator Bryon Brown. I have almost succeeded in organizing a group when I open my email early one morning and there is a Groupon for Sensorium.  It’s $99 for two people.  If I purchase it, I will save nearly $200.  I love my friends, but for a $200 savings I purchase the Groupon. I send out an email. Groupon = group off.  They are on their own.

The Groupon sells out faster than the speed of light.  The downside is that we can only get in to the 9:00 pm seating.  We are going to need to pretend that we’re in a country where dining at this hour is routine.
We arrive at Sensorium and make our way through a damp field of grass and try to identify the entrance.  This isn’t easy as it’s dark. We are told that the Groupon lists the wrong start time.  It really begins at 9:30 and they are running late. Note to Groupon or Sensorium- you have our email addresses.  It would have been thoughtful of you to let us know that the start time was wrong.  This elicits the first in a number of sensations I feel during my evening at Sensorium.  Sensation #1:  Annoyed.

We are seated at 10:00 pm.  There are six round tables arranged in a semi-circle surrounding a small stage.  The performers/servers are circulating around the room and one is at our table making an effort to learn each of our our names. We are paired with three young women. The nice thing is that anyone who is at this event shares our interest in this culinary circus.  Age is irrelevant. A willingness to have an open mind is a necessity. Sensation #2:  Nervous anticipation.

The evening proceeds through twelve courses of food.  Each course is introduced with a dramatic announcement and some sort of performance.  I won’t detail each and every one but they vary between avante garde theater, poetry, magic, song (my favorite), and audience participation/interaction.  Sensation #3: Intrigued.

The first course (an amuse buche)  requires pouring a smattering of magic crystals (pop rocks) into a spoon with a kir royale grape.  Sensation #4:  Tingly.

course 1: kir grape with magic crystals
course 2:  fennel salad
course 3:  pasta with pistachio sauce

By the time we get to course three we are sensing a pattern.  Each course consists of a fairly miniscule portion of absolutely delicious food.  I really would have liked another morsel of pasta.  Sensation #5:  Desire.

Course four is beet gazpacho with goat cheese ice.  This is introduced with a song interspersing the words cool and savory to the “beat” of a bongo drum.. Sensation #6:  Amusement.

Our table companions are expressing their delighted with the food and wine pairings, which in turn is increasing our enjoyment of the evening.  I am picturing some of our friends here and imagining a few of them rolling their eyes at some of the over-the-top performance art.  I am beginning to feel grateful that I wasn’t directly responsible for the enjoyment of others.  Sensation #7:  Relief.

Course five:  chicken with raspberries gastrique
Course Six:  Deep fried tomato, zucchini, and potato

At this point, the evening has been about the senses.  The next act is about non-sense.  We are presented with a poem and our food– pork belly on a strawberry– is served on a teensy table and chair. Wherever did they find these?  Sensation #8:  Tickled.

Course seven:  pork belly

Course eight is a Maryland oyster with ginger and foam served atop sea salt.  I do not like oysters.  I decide to go outside of my comfort zone and give it a shot.  Sensation #9:  Pride.

Course nine is eggplant with pomegranate gastrique. For some reason this course escaped a photo. But here’s one of course ten.

Course ten:  Oxtail ragout on a bed of risotto

Course 11 is brought to us on a contraption that requires the use of liquid nitrogen.  Sensation #10:  Fascination.

Course #11:  lemon pudding pop

I really enjoy the frozen lemon pudding pop.  I wish it was more than a teaspoon-full. Sensation #11:  Cool.

Course #12:  cake with a fruit compote

I ask our dining companions how they would rate this experience on a scale of one to five.  One enthusiastically rates it a five, another agrees.  The third responds more thoughtfully that this is not a restaurant.  It is a dining experience and must be considered as such.  It’s a valid point.

I find the food to be excellent and the performers talented.  I am perfectly satisfied, but the Groupon is definitely a contributor to this feeling. Would I have been quite as happy if I had paid full price?  I would need to qualify it by saying yes, if the quantity of food is increased a bit.  The women at my table did pay full price and they are completely satisfied.  In fact one talks about returning with her mother.

Bryon Brown comes out at the end and thanks us for being “foodie pioneers.”  Ooh, I love being a foodie pioneer! Sensation #12:  Pleasure.

Our parting gift is a magic bean.  I won”t tell you what it does.  Sensation #13:  Surprise.

Sensorium is going on at least through May 1.  It’s an enjoyable evening and I would recommend it if you are willing to go with an open mind.  I just saw a tweet about a $40 discount, so if you are interested keep your eyes open for more of these.

Sensorium, appearing for a limited time at the Capitol Riverfront in Washington, DC


  1. klasslevitt says

    great review-clever, funny, informative, just like your experience I guess! K

  2. Your best review yet. Fun and entertaining. Thanks:)

  3. Sounds like a savory blast. CIRQUE DU SOLEIL meets IRON CHEF.
    The photos were great. Clever presentations. I'm thinking you didn't bring home any leftovers.

  4. Lori I love your write up! It was great fun seating and experiencing the wide-range of sensations with you 🙂 I agree this was an experience very well worth it!

  5. Anonymous says

    I've got to say course 3 looks like a jellyfish with beach gravel still stuck to its dehydrating body.

  6. Anonymous says

    I can't beleive that anybody liked the wine pairings. I went a week after you though and maybe the wine budget was decreased. (Advertised as 12 courses with wine pairings equalled four diffent galsses of cheap wine with little or no thought to the pairing.) Some of our food courses were different than yours as well. The best one for us was something they called a "seasonal vegetable" dish, but none of the vegetables were in season (potatoes and squash if recall). Overall the food was not worth the money, and the performance was just noise–none of the scenes were tied to each other at all and amounted to little more than whimsy. It was a new and fun experience, and I applaud them for being dinner theater "pioneers." If $150 is a typical night out for you, and you don't mind the taste of your post-dinner beer being ruined by the "magic bean," then set your expectations low and you will enjoy.

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