O’noir – Dining in the dark

This week I was planning on taking a friend of mine out for dinner as a belated birthday gift.  She had suggested going to this place she had heard about where you eat in the dark.  I remember reading a review about this place in the Toronto Star and after some quick google searching found the Church St. establishment, O’noir.  After hearing about the dining experience we were about to embark upon some of our other friends also decided to join us.

At 9pm (they only have two sittings, one at 5:45pm and the other at 9pm) at the intersection of Church and Charles we were a little surprised to see the entrance way to the restaurant leading into a series of underground rooms that have the feel of an 1800’s European pub.  Brick walls, a book case with very old-looking leather bound books (the titles of which I had never heard of before), a pianist playing in the back, a small bar area and a room full excited patrons awaited us as we entered the (what I would describe as) waiting room to the main dining room.  It is here where you place your dinner order before being lead into the dark.  We waited in anticipation as we watch the blind staff lead lines of people, hands on each others shoulders in conga-line-like fashion into the dining room.  Shortly after ordering our server, Nasir, a kind, friendly and shorter gentleman lead the four of us into an anti-chamber like room between the waiting room and the dining room, which I’m guessing is there so that absolutely no lights get into the main dining room.  We are assured that the floor is flat at that there are no stairs as we slowly made our way through the pitch black dining room.  Now when I say pitch black, I mean it’s the equivalent of going into the darkest room of your home and closing your eyes.  Honestly, we thought our eyes would adjust to the darkness but there literally was no difference if your eyes were open or closed.  This must be what it’s truly like to be blind.

We awkwardly seat ourselves and try to find our bearings at the table as our drinks are served.  Fork on the left, a luckily dull knife on the right (my fingers went right into the blade upon contact), a napkin in between, a bread plate a little further up above the napkin and oops, the hand of the person sitting in front of me.  Human contact in the pitch black is always a little startling which we had come to realize throughout the night as there were awkward brushes; the almost disastrous passing off of glasses and plates; and me accidently grabbing someone’s foot thinking it was part of the chair or table that I kept bumping my leg into.

Warm buns were served shortly after the drinks.  Feeling the warm sensation of the bun on my hand as we slowly pulled them out of the basket was comforting.  I love warm bread.  Cutting and trying to butter the bread however was a bit of a challenge but everyone at our table seemed to manage.  The bread was fresh and warm but I don’t think I was able to butter it properly.  Makes me wonder where all the butter went then since I’m pretty sure there wasn’t any left in the little serving they gave me.  At this point I had a close call of almost spilling my beer but quickly recovered while I felt some unease from the rest of my party after yelling out,”Oh crap!”  In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have said anything and just said it was the guy behind me.  They couldn’t see, who would know.

All four of us opted to the two course meal, two of us opting for the appetizer and main while the other two opted for the main and dessert.  For the appetizer, we both ordered the surprise appetizer.  I grabbed my fork and manage to get something on it after the first poke.  Success!  I put the bite into my mouth and spoke out, “Portabella Mushroom!”  Was this a mushrooms dish?  I continued to fumble around and found a mix of vegetables which included peppers, carrots, another root vegetable (turnip?) and arugula.  It’s a salad!  I can taste the light balsamic dressing on the leaves.  And what’s that… the pungent taste of shaved cheese.  I’m going to say parmagiano since it smells like the stuff in my fridge right now.  Clearing the plate takes a bit of effort and I’m pretty sure everyone ends up resorting to using their hands… but no one knows since no one can see.  In terms of taste, the salad was just okay.  The vegetables were fresh and I’m glad they didn’t over dress it.  I would say it’s on the same level as any medium priced big box type of restaurant, not bad but not great either.

We had to wait quite a long time before the next course came out.  Unfortunately during this time another loud and obnoxious group had entered the dining room and no one could really hear each other around the table.  I think because we were in the dark they feel they needed to overcompensate and raised the volume of their voices.  It probably didn’t help that they seemed pretty drunk.  Our table continued to get in a conversation however between their loud outbursts, other tables telling them to shut up and at one point, some girl screaming since she spilled water on herself.

Three of the four of us ordered the surprise entree and our other friend ordered the chicken entree.  I missed the food a couple times when first attempting this dish but eventually got something on my fork.  The bite was crisp on the outside, definitely roasted.  Soft and somewhat juicy on the inside… chicken!  The fairly large bite size pieces of chicken were scattered throughout the dish on top of an array of vegetables.  There were a lot of green beans, mushrooms, and the odd carrot cube that tasted sauteed in some oil and was cooked well (the mushrooms were soft, the carrots held a bit of firmness while still being soft enough to easily chew through, the peppers were firm, crunchy but not raw tasting as were the green beans) .  I wish they had added a little more salt and pepper since they were pretty bland though.  The potato was not good. My friend thought it was served on top of mashed potatoes but when I picked up my potatoes mine were in slices, sort of.  I think they grossly overcooked the potatoes to the point where they had turned to mush.  I’m taking a cooking class right now and the head chef focuses a lot of not overcooking vegetables for this very reason, “You don’t want to eat mush.  It’s not baby food” he had said.  The plate was also doused with gravy.  The gravy was too salty and I hate to say it, but tasted like the powdered gravy you buy in the stores, I know since I’m sometimes too lazy to roast meat to make gravy from scratch or make it from some sort of stock.

Our other friend also ordered chicken but a different chicken dish came out for her.  She had a whole chicken breast which means she had to cut it herself.  Clearly the most difficult dish to eat in the dark that night.  She chewed into some eggplant and expressed some mild distaste and worked through some roasted potatoes.  She couldn’t finish it so she passed the plate off to me.  I really like eggplant but didn’t like this one.  I think it was a little overcook (again, the whole mush thing) and it had almost a bitter taste to it.  That and it was huge which, in the dark, makes it tough to eat.  I apparently can’t tell how big things are by their weight at the end of my fork.  A large piece of eggplant… right into my chin.  I think I might have gotten the thinner half of the chicken breast since I thought it was way overcooked and really dry.  My friend said she thought it was fine so maybe she just got the thicker part of the breast and it wasn’t as dry.  The chicken was served over what I thought was a tomato puree sauce.  I think there might have been something else in there too.  I could taste the tartness of the ripe tomato but couldn’t put my finger on the other flavor.  I want to say it some other pureed root vegetable but I guess I’ll never know.  I also found it strange that the sauce was under the chicken.

We were anxious to get out of the dining room and into the light.  Emerging into the light, squinting, I began walking to the entrance until my friend mentions that we haven’t paid.  Oh yeah!  Used to paying at the table I guess.  There was a really long line for the register and we ended up waiting about 20 minutes or so to pay.  My friend was not pleased.

Overall, the experience at O’noir was interesting.  It’s fun to go in blindly and try to figure out what you are eating.  Each bite of a true surprise, whether it be good or bad.  In terms of food quality,  I have to say that it’s not very good.  Some of the vegetables and the dry chicken were huge disappointments and even the composition of the dishes were somewhat boring and uninspired.  The ‘eating in the dark’ experience was also somewhat ruined by the drunk patrons in the room with us.  Would I recommend this to other people?  Eating in the pitch dark is an interesting experience, but I would never eat here again.  I hear that this eating in the dark craze is really big in Europe.  I would suggest waiting for your next European vacation before attempting to eat in the dark.  If your senses are heightened when you lose your sight, you want to be eating better food.

http://www.onoir.com/

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~ by jlowjlow on June 5, 2010.

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