To me, Montreal is one of the most magically beautiful places on the East Coast. The old-timey buildings, cobblestone roads, and wrought iron fences make it look like a page straight out of a storybook. It’s also one of the few places where I can practice the six years of French I have under my belt.
Last year a coworker told me about a restaurant he went to in Montreal – O.Noir, where you dine completely in the dark, served by wait staff who are visually impaired.
The idea is two-fold – gain an understanding of what it’s like to be blind AND experience heightened senses of taste and smell, while mindfully eating your food. This definitely piqued my interest.
I haven’t made it back to Montreal, but two weeks ago my husband and I spent a long weekend in Toronto. Lo and behold, I noticed a restaurant called O.Noir a few blocks away from our hotel. I was stoked and made reservations as soon as I could!
We almost walked right past the restaurant. It was easy to overlook the awning with the O.Noir logo over a set of steps leading down to a cellar of sorts. Of course! To be completely in the dark, it would make sense to have a space without windows.
We were immediately greeted by a woman who heard us coming and offered to take our coats. At check-in, we were given menus (in the light!) and then recited our orders to the server. After, we were led into the pitch black dining room, holding right hand to right shoulder. Finally, we were seated, offered bread, and served our drinks.
We both started off with two refreshing glasses of pineapple juice. The shared starter was a “surprise meat.” I’m still not completely sure what it was, but I’m going with a seasoned sausage over rice. It was tasty. For a main dish, I had the shrimp risotto with mushrooms and garlic. It was so delicious. I made sure to slowly swirl the food around in my mouth so I could taste all of the flavors. It almost reminded me of wine tasting. For dessert, my husband and I split fruit sorbet, which was very citrusy and topped with chunks of pineapple.
Well, let’s just say that I didn’t expect anything other than loving the visit to O.Noir. Never in a million years, did I think that I would have a small panic attack from being in the dark. And yet, that’s exactly what happened.
As soon as we were led into the dining room, I started feeling something in my chest – like a tiny ball of fear. Nothing worse than walking through a dark maze at a haunted house. That feeling quickly spread over my entire body as we were seated. I broke out into a cold sweat and could hardly catch my breath. “I don’t think I can do this,” I gasped and felt for my husband’s hand. He asked if I wanted to leave. I did, but I definitely didn’t want to chicken out and ruin the entire experience. After all, I was the one who wanted to do this!
He was able to calm me down by having me feel my surroundings, so I would know that I wasn’t as enclosed as I felt. I kept sipping the cool juice, did some deep breathing, and reminded myself that we were doing something fun and once in a lifetime.
After what felt like an eternity, but was probably only a few minutes, I was able to semi-relax and begin to enjoy the experience. But I can’t tell you how overjoyed I was when I could see the light again.
The bottom line: This was one of the most expensive meals I’ve ever eaten, and I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of it. (Check the sites below for a list of prices.) It’s worth mentioning that I have a newfound appreciation and respect for those who are visually impaired – whether they were born blind or lost their sight later in life. I don’t think we can truly appreciate what we have until we’ve lost it – senses included. As always, I encourage you to try new things and see for yourself. And, I don’t want to be biased, but I do have to mention that the Montreal menu looks more enticing!