Last night, I tried a different kind of fine dining. The food wasn’t anything out of the ordinary and the drinks weren’t either; although I must say they were both very tasty. The decor may have been different, but I wouldn’t have known the difference because my sight was completely stripped away from me for the evening. This is what happens when you dine at O’Noir Restaurant.
O’Noir is Canada’s only “Dine in the Dark” restaurant which first started in Montreal with a second location opening shortly after in Toronto. The experience is like no other. You experience your food, drink, and conversation all in complete darkness and as a result, your other senses are heightened. After an hour or two in complete darkness (that’s right, no flashlights, matches, cell phones, cigarette lighters or luminous watches), you really gain a better understanding of what it’s like to be blind – just like the restaurant’s entire wait staff.
This socially conscious concept sprang from Jorge Spielmann, a blind pastor in Zurich who used to blindfold his dinner guests at his home so they could share his eating experience. In 1999, Spielmann opened Blindekuh (German for Blind Cow), a project aimed at teaching the sighted about the sightless world and providing jobs for blind people.
When you first walk into the restaurant, it’s dimly lit so that you are able to look at the menu and select your meal before entering into the dining hall. The menu has a good selection, including a couple of vegetarian options. You also have the option of choosing a “surprise meal” for your appetizer, entrée, or dessert. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can choose your entire meal to be a surprise. I recommend the “surprise meal” options because it makes your dining experience a lot more interesting. You’d be surprised how incorrect your guesses as to what you are eating may be.
Once you’ve selected your meal choice, you are introduced to your waiter who will give you an introduction to the dining experience you’re about to have and what you can expect from it. You then hold hands with everyone you’re dining with and lead by your server into the pitch black dining room. When I say pitch black, I mean absolute complete darkness without the slightest bit of light. Your waiter will slowly and safely guide you to your table and individual seats. Once you sit down, you’re told that there is cutlery and a plate on the table in front of you, but no glassware. Thank god!
Myself and the four other people I came with were fortunate to get a wonderful server named Gavin. Once we sat down, Gavin left to grab our drinks. The first five minutes from entering the dining hall had me in complete panic. I felt anxious and scared. I’d never been in a situation where when I went from closing my eyes to opening there was only complete darkness. I felt somewhat claustrophobic. I didn’t like not having control over my sight. I felt alone even though I was at a table with four other people. My first reaction was that I wanted to leave. I didn’t want to do this. However, when Gavin came back to the table, I felt more comfortable and relaxed. It also helped that he kept cracking jokes which really put me at ease. I also thought that if there are so many people that have no choice but to live in complete darkness, I can do this for a couple of hours.
When I took my first sip of the strawberry beer I ordered, an overwhelming rush of flavour took over my tastebuds. It was delicious. I’ve had strawberry beer before, but this beer tasted even better than I could remember. Following our drinks, Gavin brought over our appetizers, entrées, and dessert. One-by-one, each dish was placed in front of me and was all very enjoyable. I ordered the “surprise meal” as my entrée and was so glad that I did. It was interesting to eat off of a plate without knowing what I was putting in my mouth. I was able to figure out everything I was eating within seconds of putting it in my mouth. As for the surprise dessert, I found it a little more difficult to determine what I was eating. For each wrong guess, Gavin gave me a strike. When I nearly got three strikes, someone at my table finally guessed correctly. What I really noticed about each dish was that everything had more flavour. I also payed a lot of attention to the texture of my food, which I don’t normally do when I eat. The conversation at the table was also really entertaining. There were a lot of jokes being thrown around not just amongst my friends but with other tables as well. It was like everyones confidence was boosted and everyone became so much more friendlier when you coulnd’t actually see who you were talking to. I also need to mention that Gavin was by far the best server I have EVER had in my life. He was hilarious, friendly, and caring. He truly made our visit one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had.
Once we were done our meal, and Gavin guided us back out of the dining hall into the main lobby, it felt incredibly weird to be able to see again. Although the lobby had dim lighting, it was so bright and it took a while for my eyes to adjust. Yet, when I could see again, all I could think about was Gavin standing behind me in the lit room, still not able to see. It made me really appreciate my gift of sight. It made me think about how lucky I am to be able to experience this magnificent world with my eyes. It’s moments like these that really make you appreciate you’re life and how lucky you are to have the simple things. We constantly complain and worry about things that are easily changeable, but something like not having the ability to see is interchangeable and can be taken away from you at any time.
If you are every in Montreal or Toronto, I highly recommend dining at O’Noir Restaurant. It will be an experience you’ll never forget.
Also, check out the video below of O’Noir Restaurant featuring my server, Gavin!