Tonight Glen and I had dinner with Jeanette, a radiologist from Perth who is visiting Toronto for a few days. Glen booked us in for the 6pm seating at O Noir, a restaurant where you eat in the pitch dark and are served by blind waitstaff.
The restaurant is a street away from our apartment yet we haven’t, in the six months we’ve been here, made a point of going, despite many times saying, “We must try it one night.”
Anyway, tonight was the night. First we gathered in the bar area, which is lit and served by people who can see. We were given menus and made our choices of entree, main and dessert, before being shown to one of two (that I could see) dining rooms. Outside the door to the dining room we were met by our server, a blind woman named Diana, who told us about the room (no steps, same level floor) and how we were going to get into the room and to our seats.
She then leads us in, with us forming a line behind her, left hand on the left shoulder of the person in front. Inside it was pitch black and stayed that way throughout the two-hour seating. Glen could see a bit of light as he was facing the door but for me it was pitch. Almost oppressive in a way because there was no way to see beyond the darkness.
Diana came over to us throughout the evening to hand out our meals and take away the empty dishes, giving clear directions each time. It was interesting that she’d say to whoever’s dish she had that here was the food in her hand and you’d reach out and it was right there, no wild flailing of arms in the dark to find it.
Being unable to see who you’re conversing with was a different experience and you realise how much you rely on non-verbal communication. For me, I struggle a little when people aren’t talking directly to me or I can’t focus on their lips, so not being able to see Glen or Jeanette there were times when I found it difficult to hear or understand what they were saying.
We managed to find our food though it wasn’t without some difficulty. I don’t know about you but I choose what is going to be the last thing I eat because I want to finish a dish with a particular flavour or texture in my mouth. Being unable to see what I was eating definitely made that a different experience.
You think you’re getting squid when in fact you’ve picked up a piece of tomato, or you think you’re scooped up a bit of chicken when it’s actually a piece of potato. I felt much more comfortable with the dessert as it was sorbet in a small bowl. I could pick up the bowl, bring it closer to my mouth and then scoop up and eat. Despite having knives and forks for the other two courses, it was much easier (and more successful) to scoop food onto the fork than try to stab it. Many times you end up with nothing.
And then of course it takes a while to figure out if you’ve got everything off the plate. Fingers come in handy but then you put your hands in a plate of sauce and that can be a bit disconcerting.
The dining room felt quite large but was probably quite small. I didn’t have anyone seated behind me but Glen did and his chair was touching the guy behind. While we didn’t know where we were in relation to other diners (apart from a generalised direction), Diana knew her way around the room and there was no bumping into tables or delay in going from one table to the next.Amazing spatial awareness.
We finished up and then were lead out of the dining room, back into a now dimly lit hallway. Even at a low level, the light was a strain on the eyes and it took a good few minutes to be entirely comfortable with being able to see again.
The people for the second sitting were gathered in the waiting area when we came out and interestingly there were two people (that I could identify) who were vision impaired (one with a cane and another with a guide dog).
Overall, it was an interesting and intriguing experience. The food wasn’t amazing (and I wonder what we would have got if we’d ordered the surprise dishes; they don’t even tell you what they are when they’re brought to the table) but it wasn’t bad.
And while I couldn’t see, I didn’t put much of an emphasis on trying to figure out what I was eating. There was some flavour (the chicken was very salty) but for me it was more about sensing texture than taste.
The rubber-like feel of calamari with the squishy explosion of tomato, the firm softness of potatoes, slight crunch of beans and then the fleshy feel of chicken, and finally the crystalline shards of sorbet and smooth feel of pineapple and mango pieces. Maybe for someone else it would have been about taste or smell, rather than texture.
But an experience worth trying at least once.
Strangely, before we left the dining room, a quote from one of Rowan Atkinson’s sketch performances came to mind: “Like the blind man in the dark room looking for the black cat…that isn’t there. (Which I’ve just found out is actually part of a quote from Charles Darwin about mathematicians. Though it’s funny when Atkinson says it.) I laughed on the inside.
Afterwards, Jeanette came back to our apartment and we chatted some more before walking her to the train station. It’s about –10°C tonight. Today the maximum was —4°C. It’s cold.