O.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.