My wife and I were in Montreal this past weekend and decided to eat at a place we’ve both wanted to check out for a while. I don’t normally write about the great places we have eaten, but this place is different and cool on so many levels.
If you haven’t heard of O’Noir you might have trouble imagining the concept of the restaurant. You eat in total darkness. The staff are blind and there is not a spec of light inside the place. Think about that for a second. Pitch black.
If you think that sounds weird, you have no idea. Next time you are at your dinner table close your eyes, find your fork and try and get a piece of food. Now try doing that for a whole meal. That’s what we did.
Upon arriving at O’Noir, an otherwise non-descript restaurant on Rue St. Catherine in Montreal, we congregated with other patrons at the front of the establishment in a bar area waiting to be led to our seats by our server.
When it was our turn to be seated, we put our hands on the shoulders of our (blind) server who opened a door and led us into pitch black. Our server was obviously a pro at moving around the restaurant, while we hesitatingly took baby steps fully expecting to bump into a wall at any moment, even though we were promised there would be nothing we could trip on or walk into.
It was immediately disorienting. We could hear a room full of people that sounded like a busy restaurant. We just couldn’t see them. Or anything.
At our table, our server server stopped and took our hands and places them on a chair and helped us sit. Then she left us alone. Chay and I were stunned. We were laughing our asses off as we realized we were going to eat in the dark, sitting in a room that could be full of soldiers, ballerinas or basketball players. Or not.
There was no music. Just people chatting and giggling. All around us.
I found myself squinting to try and see things, but it was impossible.
Eventually, curiosity got the best of me and I had to reach my arms in every direction to find what was around us. Carefully groping around so as not to knock anything over, I found the edge of our table, a wall and by accident hit someone’s chair in the back and heard them mention they got prodded from someone (me).
To make things even more interesting, English was at least the third language of our server who I think was German. Try ordering a vegan meal…off menu…in the dark…. to someone who doesn’t speak English all too well. Fun fun. I did manage to order a meal without meat or dairy…I think.
While we sat our server would return every few minutes, seeming to be magically present one moment and gone the next, never making any sound as she came and went. For all we know she spent the evening standing behind us.
When the food came, Chay and I were still in disbelief we were going to eat in the dark. After carefully creeping our fingers across the table to find our drinks without knocking them over, we next fumbled for our cutlery and ate by feeling for the edges of the food and clumsily stabbing the bits and pieces we cut. We did our best to keep food from falling in our laps.
Each lift of the fork was an adventure. The menus are vague (by design, I am sure) so you are not really sure what you are eating and I kept on saying “I just ate something I recognize, but I am not sure what it is”. Plus one bite would be massive and the next would be empty because you can’t see what’s on your fork. Hilarious and all good at the same time.
Every now and then you would see a flash of light in your peripheral which may have been someone’s watch, but you are never really sure if it is your mind playing tricks on you. At one point I was certain I could see colors and shapes and I had only had half a drink at this point.
When Chay visited the ladies room, I sat in the dark alone and meditated on the sound around me. Many conversations in French. Laughter. Amazing.
I realized that without your sight, you focus entirely on what you are tasting and hearing, heightening those senses.
I also found that I couldn’t multitask. Normally at dinner I chit chat and shovel back my food with nary a thought about it, but without my sight I could only do one of those things at a time. Chay said it was the slowest she has ever seen me eat a meal. Not a bad thing at all.
When we finally left and were led out into the light, it was like gaining a whole new sense. Everything was bright and new.
The food was great. The experience was unbelievable. We are still talking about it enthusiastically.
If you are ever in Montreal and looking for an exciting twist on dinner, you must check it out >> O’Noir
…And while I am tooting the horn for one amazing restaurant in Montreal, I must mention a couple more incredible vegan restaurants in Montreal.
Crudessence – If you like raw vegan, gluten free, organic food (like me), then you will think this place is heaven. We went to the one on MacKay downtown. The food is unreal. I could eat there every day.
Fushi – Great japanese-fusion place and quite likely the best vegan sushi I have ever had. What the chef brought was a labor of love. Three types of veg sushi rolls with avocado, seaweed, cucumber, sweet potatoes, many more goodies and even strawberries! The chef made me a fried sweet potato tower that was breathtaking. It was like nothing I’d ever had before. I could also eat here every day.
Lola Rosa’s – Cool mex-vegetarian place in the student district in downtown Montreal. I had a great vegan curry and Chay had some awesome nachos. And yes, it’s true, the brownies are to die for- at least that’s what Chay said.
UPDATE May 1, 2012: My wife and I returned to O’Noir, this time with another couple. The food was delectable and we had even more fun that the first time because we were less overwhelmed. Terrific time.