“It’s Better in the Dark” – O.NOIR Restaurant

Image by bryankennedy via Flickr


Original O.NOIR in Montreal, with the Toronto arm opening very recently.
The brainchild of Jorge Spielmann – a blind Austrian pastor who used to blindfold his guests during dinner parties so they could experience his world. In 1999, he opened Blindekuh (Blind Cow), a project dedicated to educating the sighted about the sightless, and providing jobs for blind people.
In Canada our first such experience opened in Montreal with the Toronto arm opening recently at 620 Church Street in the Bloor area.
How does it work?
There are two serving times; 5.45, and 9pm, and that’s your lot.
When you arrive, you go down the steps into a paneled and very nondescript looking entrance way and hall; check out the smell – faintly smokey, antiseptic, perfumed candle sort of thing going on. You check in with the hostess and are ushered into a dimly lit bar area, where you are served by sighted staff and where you get a chance to peruse the menu whilst enjoying a pre-dinner drink.
You order your food:
2 courses $32.00
3 courses $39
When the time comes (sounds like an execution), you follow the hostess back down the hall to an inset door. She knocks on the door, and your blind or partially sighted server comes through. You are introduced to each other and then the instructions begin.
We are told to place our left hand on the left shoulder of the person in front. The layout of the room is explained and that the door is on our right and we will have to hold it open. Through the door we go, shuffling like a giant centipede, all arms and legs through the antechamber. The door shuts behind us – pitch dark  – I mean total bloody black-out. Too busy concentrating on not tripping over the person in front, we are told to stand still. The server hands the person immediately behind her to his chair; placing their hands on the chair back and describing the location of the table. She comes to the next one and does the same until everybody is seated. We are then told exactly where everything is on the table and we grope around for each item described. She spends a little more time with us orienting us to the surroundings. She asks that we turn off cell phones and that we don’t take flash pictures (what other type of picture would we take?). THEN SHE LEAVES US.
I almost have a mini panic attack as the dark closes in – I can hear the conversations of the couple to my right and hear the large party gathering some distance  –  oddly I can barely hear my husband speak. (No comment)
I can see my wristwatch which until that moment I hadn’t realised had light emitting diodes marking the minute intervals! It was actually very distracting so I turned it to the inside of my wrist. Some idiot on one of the group tables took a flash photo (why) accompanied by much booing from surrounding diners. I did however momentarily get a sense of the size of the room and the table layout.
My eyes start to hurt  – they are so busy desperately trying to focus in the dark – which they can’t, that it’s easier to just keep them closed. I lean over to grab my husband’s arm and knock my drink over – of course! Good job I stuck with water.
I go over the table items again – gingerly this time; the table is a monster size and I appear to be seated well over to the left.
Our server arrives with the bread rolls – Mmm – how do I spread the butter; bugger it, I’ll not bother. My husband perseveres; and I give up and stick half of my roll on what I think is his plate – He never actually finds this offering!
Our starter arrives  – We’ve both ordered Portobello mushroom with parmesan shavings. God, where is my cutlery; actually where is the mushroom. I give up on attempting to chase the things on my plate onto my cutlery, and use my fingers. Mmm slippery mushroom in some sort of dressing – what a mess but very tasty.
And of course I get desperate to go to the washroom as my bladder realises that there are some constraints here (just like camping and at night in a strange house or non en-suite hotel room). I have to call the server; in fact we both end up shouting for the server who had probably chosen that moment to visit the kitchen. It did take around 10 minutes before we were able to be guided out – take note and go before you enter.
Next up is the filet mignon which fortunately arrives pre-cut. Don’t bother asking the server to omit any given food from your plate – I requested “no potatoes” – you wouldn’t know whether they were there or not until you’d already had a mouthful. 
The food was tasty but I don’t think this could be attributed to heightened taste buds, judging by my many nocturnal thirst quenching trips, I reckon the food was simply very salty.
Interestingly when your eyes can’t see to signal how much is left on your plate at any given point, it is incredibly unsatisfying to abruptly come to the end of your portion without realizing it!!
A sobering revelation came when our highly articulate and obviously intelligent server  started a word game with us following my husband’s use of the word myriad earlier in the proceedings. She had been having somewhat of a frustrating evening – I cannot even imagine how much patience is needed ferrying around sighted people there for the experience or a laugh; talking them through the same old, same old,  time and time again; especially if you are super intelligent as she obviously was. She would ask us targeted questions so that she could weave an incredible word ot two  into the ensuing conversation. Enlightening and humbling at the same time. So the endeavour of the initiator of this restaurant concept –  to give an insight into the world of the blind –  was totally successful. Recommend for anyone not “freaked out by the dark but especially for thos who know someone blind – boy you’ll certainly “get it” after an evening here.
For my European readers, “Dans le Noir”  are two other versions of the same concept in London and Paris 
416-922-NOIR (6647)
Over & Out

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