What happens when you get about a dozen Toastmaster’s people together and dine completely in the dark?
A whole lot of talking.
O.Noir in Toronto isn’t new to the dining scene. It opened in June 2009, and brought to Torontonians the experience others in Montreal, Europe, Australia, Los Angeles and New York City have had the pleasure to explore.
It’s a must-try experience at least once. It isn’t for everybody though – anybody afraid of the dark, or somewhat claustrophobic will not be able to get past the door. This is because it’s completely pitch black inside the room in which you dine.
However, for those brave-hearted souls, it’s an eye opening dinner (no puns intended). Your focus is on senses other than your sight. All of a sudden conversations seem louder. You pay attention more to touching the things in front of you on the table to try to memorize where they are placed. Your taste is heightened and you eat your food just a bit slower, savouring each bite.
Before you begin your dinner, you choose your dinner from the menu. A waitress writes down the order for your party to let the kitchen know how many meals to prepare. You get to choose either a package with appetizer, main entree and dessert ($39) or just an appetizer and entree, or entree and dessert ($32). While there’s a selection of various dishes, for the adventure, you can try the “surprise” meals which are different from any of the other selections on the menu. Truly a surprise!
You enter the dark room with the help of your blind waiter or waitress, and by holding onto the shoulder of the person in front of you. Our waitress shouted out instructions, letting us know that our chairs were in front of us. Once seated your dinner begins.
Your waitress lets you know which dishes she is holding, so whoever ordered them gets them from her.
I ordered the Grilled Portobello Mushroom with Parmigiano shavings and balsamic vinegar dressing as my appetizer. Very quickly did I learn that it’s not easy trying to cut through a Portobello mushroom in the dark. You get used to exploring the plate with your fork and knife after a few minutes. The dish is tasty with the balsamic vinaigrette offering enough flavour to bring out the earthy mushroom tastes.
Once the waitress removed our appetizers, about 10 minutes later, our main entrees came out. Once again she called out our dish selections. The Marinated Shrimp with Herbs, served on a bed of dried tomato risotto was so-so. While the shrimp were delicious pieces with a moist saucy dressing, the risotto lacked flavour. Friends who tried the Fillet Mignon had a hard time cutting through it as they couldn’t see it. Others who had the Chicken with Aubergine and Tomatoes found it to be delicious.
Dessert was Dark Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry – very decadent and smooth. The raspberry is tart and complements the chocolate mouse nicely. It was a great way to end the evening.
After all my plates were removed, I felt around on the table in front of me to check if I had spilled anything – I didn’t. Being extra careful with my drink, and where I placed my fork on the plate meant I wasn’t making a mess. The one thing I noted throughout the meal was the fact that I wasn’t finishing everything off my plate. I was eating slower than usual, and as a result wasn’t hungry. Each time my plate was taken away there was food left over.
A few things to note, if visiting O.Noir – dress comfortably as the room we were in was very warm. You may also want to leave behind the silk blouse or fancy dress shirt as accidents do happen in the dark.
Would I go back? Most likely not. Do I regret the experience – most definitely not. The food is nothing really special, however it’s the dining in a different type of environment that teaches you about yourself that makes this restaurant unique. I learned more about myself and my senses, and that for a two hour period I could stand being in the dark.
* Note – the photo is what you will actually see during your meal.