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Restaurants

O.NOIR

Posted by Paula Potts / Reviewed on January 17, 2010 / review policy

OnoirO.NOIR was undoubtedly the biggest dining gimmick to hit the Toronto restaurant scene in 2009. For those unfamiliar, the novelty of O.NOIR centers on eating in a pitch-black room and being served by blind wait staff. When I first heard about this place I had so many questions. How would my sense of taste be heightened? What kind of food would they serve? How would I react to the texture and flavours of my meal if I had no idea what it was?

My questions were going to be answered as I arrive at O.NOIR last week to celebrate my friend's 30th birthday. I place my order while seated in the cozy, film noir-inspired lounge area before heading into the dark. The menu is short but varied with starters that include grilled octopus or calamari; arugula salad with fresh mushrooms or grilled Portobello mushroom with Parmigiano and balsamic vinegar.

The main courses range from filet mignon to chicken with aubergine, pasta with tomato sauce and Veal al Limone. The only seafood on the menu is a marinated shrimp as apparently fish glows in the dark. Fruit sorbet, chocolate cake and a dark chocolate mousse with raspberry round out the dessert menu. For any of the courses diners are able to select the option to have a "surprise" course, meaning they bring you their choice from the menu.

I throw caution to the wind and order the full experience with all 3 courses as a "surprise". Prices are $39 for a starter, main course and dessert or $32 for a main course, and either a starter or dessert. A decent wine or beer is extra.

Despite flinging my first glass of wine across the table, I soon feel quite comfortable in the dark and begin to relax. I even manage to spread butter on some fresh, crispy rolls. When my surprise appetizer arrives, I realize how hard it is to use cutlery when I have no idea where my food is on my plate. I stab my fork downwards and shove a giant piece of smoked salmon into my mouth. The salmon is soft and fresh and I definitely feel my sense of taste heighten as I savor the smoky aftertaste. Unfortunately, I devour all the salmon in one mouthful, resulting in the rest of my arugula, spinach and caper salad tasting a little bland.

For my main course, I immediately recognize the crunchy zucchini and green beans, the soft, grainy potatoes and smooth, spongy mushrooms. I quickly touch the food on my plate before I'm certain that my main course is chicken. Despite the small portion, the chicken was topped with comforting, peppercorn gravy. I tried a forkful of the five-spice filet mignon as well and was impressed with the juicy, tender cut. The chocolate mousse for dessert was light and fluffy, and I left feeling satisfied.

Dining in the dark is a concept that has been around for a number of years; Dans le Noir in Paris and other cities, Opaque in California and the restaurant that started the trend, Blind Cow in Zurich. The owner, Moe Alameddine opened the first O.NOIR in Montreal three years ago and brought the dining in the dark experience to Toronto last June.
O Noir Toronto

Discussion

30 Comments

Chino / January 17, 2010 at 03:35 pm
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interesting. i heard about this back in the summer and loved the idea. think of how the blind have a heightened sense of sound. stevie wonder and ray charles anyone?

i would have thought the menu to be more extensive but i guess it cant necessarily take reign over the experience. but then again, how heightened of a flavour can you really get from calimari or chicken???

did you happen to direct any food in your eye or nose? hehehe :)

was it loud(er) with cutlery smashing against plates? glasses falling on the floor?
Jeff / January 17, 2010 at 07:43 pm
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You make it sound like you enjoyed the food. I went there as an invited guest on my b-day and although it was a great surprise, I must say the food was lacking. It tasted like cafeteria food. It was a cool experience but based on what I tasted, I won't be returning. Having said that, I recommend people to try it at least once. I just wish they would improve the quality of the food and play with the flavours/textures more.

The other issue is that we found a larger group making a TON of noise in this restaurant and you can't do the customary "glance over and stare at the table until they stop making noise" since they obviously can't see you. I had to verbally say "excuse me, there are other people in teh restaurant" but, I found that didn't help much. I guess certain people when they aren't "seen" will behave recklessly.

Jeremy Wilson / January 17, 2010 at 08:07 pm
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We went for New Years. Not only was the food very bland - cafeteria is a good choice to describe the quality - but you could tell the place was furnished with used tables and hotel meeting room chairs. Plus my girlfriend requested no fish and ended up with a fish appetizer.

Actually, I was impressed at the scam - spending zero dollars on decor (ie. they've left almost all the previous 70's steak house aesthetic intact), fill a dark room with crappy, wobbly auction house furniture and serve mediocre, bland microwave food - and have people rave about "the experience" and pay extraordinary amounts of money for it.

Good for them I guess!
BoBo / January 17, 2010 at 09:18 pm
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interesting idea - but the food at best is mediocre

I really liked the idea eating in the dark/being served by a blind waiter.. But I was very disappointed in the quality of the food. To top it off it the tables were 'fold-out', and you could tell the utensils were cheap. It left me really wondering how the place looked if the lights were turned on. I'll not be wandering here again.
Paula Potts replying to a comment from Chino / January 17, 2010 at 09:59 pm
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Yes, actually, a bit of a food fight happened with the chocolate mousse! And because you can't see anyone, you end up talking much louder, so it does become pretty rowdy.
Paula Potts replying to a comment from Jeff / January 17, 2010 at 10:42 pm
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I agree that they definitely should explore more interesting food options and take advantage of depriving the senses. They are limited to as I mentioned, food that glows, that is hard to cut, has bones or shells. When I go to gimmicky restaurants, I know I'm going for the experience - and we had a blast! Tables were fold out, but it didn't bother me.
Eater / January 17, 2010 at 10:49 pm
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Sounds like there is a big difference between the Toronto and Montreal locations.

In Montreal, both my date and I chose the surprise menu. The food wasn't very memorable, but trying to figure out what we were eating based on smell, taste and texture alone was fun.

The restaurant was full, but I certainly wouldn't say the noise was too much or that anyone was "rowdy." Conversations spread around you and when the waiter at a nearby table mentioned a birthday, the entire restaurant broke out in the birthday song.

Also, I loved hearing the waiter calling my name as he brought over each course. I'm trying to remember the last time I was on a first name basis with a waiter in any other restaurant.

Although, starting the review with the term "gimmick" sets up for the reader that you're going to be cynical throughout.
gosia101 / January 17, 2010 at 11:29 pm
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I went to O.Noir just a few weeks after it opened. I wimped out and chose my meal, and my friend went for the suprise option. We had a great time trying to describe to one another the textue and flavour of the meals we had, just to see if maybe the kitchen had decided to be funny and give us exactly the same meal (the didn't). O.Noir won't be my regular spot, but I'm certainly glad I tried it, and would definitely go again.
Ben / January 18, 2010 at 09:08 am
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I have to agree with some of the early comments. My wife and I went a few days after opening, and while the concept was amusing, the cost of eating in the dark was hard to swallow when the food arrived. I too ordered the surprise, and am pretty sure that I received a roast. From the taste, however, it could have been a can of Campbell's Chunky. Certainly not somewhere I would really recommend to anyone who wants a good meal.
apow / January 18, 2010 at 10:15 am
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i touched a guy's butt here in the dark

AND IT WASN'T BY ACCIDENT
That Girl / January 18, 2010 at 11:10 am
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I went there a few weeks ago, and loved it, we were completely forgotten about, and made friends with other tables, and started guessing what each other looked like and such...

Quite entertaining, take or leave the food though.
cdv / January 18, 2010 at 11:12 am
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I heard about this 10 years ago in NYC. Toronto, as usual is so far behind.
Katie / January 18, 2010 at 01:33 pm
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We went to ONOIR with a good sized group looking for a different experience and we HAD A BLAST!

I thought the food was decent for the price ($39 for 3 courses?!). I enjoyed my smoked salmon salad, filet mignon and chocolate mousse cake. I had the same issue with the smoked salmon and have to admit I resorted to eating with my fingers (sorry mom!). Of course you can find better cuisine elsewhere, but for the price and the unique experience I thought it was a great evening.

I agree that it won't be a regular dinner spot (it does get very loud when you can't see anything), but I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for fun night out with friends.
b29 replying to a comment from cdv / January 18, 2010 at 05:13 pm
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we are just *so* culturally deprived out here in toronto, aren't we?!
Curious / January 20, 2010 at 07:35 pm
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How do you find the bathroom?
Still curious / January 21, 2010 at 12:40 pm
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What do fire regulations say about a place like this? Aren't all public spaces supposed to have illuminated exit signs? Do the lights automatically come on if there's a fire alarm?
Rocktop / January 27, 2010 at 08:35 am
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I agree with those in doubt about the quality of the food. Just think, how could you tell if there is a bug in your entree? Taste and texture? SHEESH! I hope the city health inspectors check this place ten times over!
Boobi / January 27, 2010 at 07:49 pm
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- Waiter was nice
- The buns were good, too bad the food taste like poo
- The Chianti was very veryyyyyyyyyy gross...
- The cake could of been bought at a dollar store

waste of $
Boobi replying to a comment from Curious / January 27, 2010 at 07:50 pm
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my friend ask the waiter, waiter led him to bathroom.
diarrhea / March 16, 2010 at 02:49 am
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gave me and friends diarrhea
joe / April 6, 2010 at 02:11 pm
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we had a great time!i m a chef and i found they are using good quality meat.im surprised with all the reviews,great food ,great concept.
joe coles / April 11, 2010 at 08:38 am
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excelent service,great concept.my steak was excellent,we had a great night ...we will come back for a surprise birthday party in may.
Khalid / May 14, 2010 at 01:44 pm
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I was deterred from trying this place back in Jan because of some bad reviews.

Gave it a shot this week - whats an awesome experience! Our server was great. The steak was perfect. Definitely a great place for a surprise dinner^^
David Pinto / August 8, 2010 at 04:04 am
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I live in Montreal, in fact only a few blocks from O Noir, but have not been there.
I appreciated the comments, but I have a few more questions:
What do you do if you hear a familiar voice some tables away? In an ordinary restaurant, you can go over during the time between courses and say hello to this person -- maybe someone you haven't seen in twenty years. In O Noir, you can't do this.
If you're a guy with a date, how do you have any sort of an interesting conversation if you cannot see the expressions on your date's face as she reacts to what you have just said?
The absolutely most important question, though, is: How on earth do you calculate an adequate tip if you can't see anything? Most people, after all, calculate the basic tip, say 15 per cent, and then vary it up or down depending on any number of factors: the food, the service, the decor, etc. But if you can't even see the food, how can you calculate the tip?
Poo-nany / January 19, 2011 at 10:30 pm
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Food = 1 Star.

That is all.
Snow replying to a comment from Jeff / September 29, 2011 at 10:02 pm
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You can't stop people from having fun and enjoying what they are experiencing. Even in a regular restaurant, you can hear people laughing out loud and talking loud, did the waiter even bother to stop them? I don't think so. As long as they're not running around the place and touch you which I don't think a mature person would do, I suggest that u should learn how to adjust, if not then you should pick a place for a quiet dining.
John / November 25, 2011 at 06:52 pm
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Great place to get a bj under the table as desert without anyone seeing :)
MJ / July 11, 2012 at 11:35 am
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The appetizer and main dish were a little gross and among the worst dishes I've ever had. I really enjoyed my dessert (apple-raisin-cinnamon bread topped with vanilla ice cream), however. Despite that, the experience was very memorable; I wished the food was better, but I still had fun.
ThreeMice / August 26, 2012 at 02:17 pm
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The dining in the dark concept has always puzzled me.

Why? Because the SIGHT of food is a very important aspect of eating - its a fundamental part of the dish. How a plate looks is supposed to affect the way that the food tastes. To me, eating in the dark is almost analogous to reducing all food into pill or paste form to eliminate the element of the texture of the food from dining.

Taking the visual aspect of dining away just seems like simplifying something that doesn't need to be streamlined, or reducing complexity where the complexity only adds to your enjoyment.
Matt / May 4, 2013 at 10:49 pm
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Very cool and unique experience. It was very fun and I will never forget it. The food options were not many and the prices were way too high for decent quality and small quantity dishes. I finished my dish quickly and kept searching on my plate hoping there was more food hiding somewhere. Then I praye that my girlfriend was full so that I could finish hers but it did t happen. Ended up spending $90 for two including tip and without buying alcohol. Cut that price in half and I'd consider going back, but I don't like having to find fast food after leaving a restaurant.

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