Montreal is a city that always has it's finger on the pulse of everything and of course was the first city in Canada to introduce O. Noir.
I have eaten at O. Noir twice now and it's really a rare experince to eat in completely pitch blackness. You can't see in front of you - you blink a few times and still you're surrounded by the darkness. It's pretty crazy!
The concept originated in Zurich in '99. Jorge Spielman, a blind pastor, opened opened Blindekuh (that’s German for Blind Cow) where he blindfolded his dinner guests to give them the experience of what being blind is like. O Noir restaurant wants to do the same and supports visually impaired people in two ways. It donates proceeds to agencies serving visually impaired people and it employs visually impaired wait staff.
So what happens is - when you walk in to a well lit lobby area and check in with the host - you are asked to select what you would like to eat and drink or you have the option of ordering the surprise. Then you are asked to lock up your valuables, cell phone and coats in a locker and given a key.
Once you are ready- a server who is visually impaired comes out and leads you into the the dark. The server asks you to put your right hand on their shoulder and your guest should do the same to you forming a train and you walk in. This was really intimidating as there was no trace of light anywhere, you can't even see shadows of other patrons eating or traces of tables.
When your appetizers come - you are guided to where your plate and cutlery are placed. But seriously, because you can't see anything - i think table manners go out by the wayside and you start to feel around to see what else is on your plate with your fingers. I"m sure you can get away with a lot of things at this restaurant as nobody's looking!! If you need anything, you are instructed to call for your server, whether it's for another glass of wine, more salt and pepper or if you need to go to the bathroom.
For me- the excitement was in ordering the surprise menu and trying to figure out through the different textures, tastes, and smells what the different dishes were. Also I was able to make silly faces at my friends and use my hands to eat which was messy but really hilarious at the same time.
One thing i noticed was the noise level- it was LOUD in the restaurant- you can hear everything and I guess that without sight, all your other senses are very much heightened. At one point in the night, there was a birthday song being sung and i think all conversation in the entire restaurant was suspended and everybody joined into the song and harmonized and sang at the top of their lungs. It was amazing!!
Another time I decided to be rather cheeky and start singing "In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle, the Lion Sleeps tonight" and before i knew it - 2 other tables joined in - it was a lot of fun... a wimma way, a wimma way... weeeee!!!
This is a culinary experience like no other attached with a good message so if you're ever in the Belle Province - i would encourage giving it a try!
ONoir- 1631 Rue Ste. Catherine Ouest
*** stars out of 5