“We should look for someone to eat and drink with,
before looking for something to eat and drink.”
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Have you ever gone so far out of your comfort zone that you even surprised yourself? I mean, I’ve never been skydiving, nor would I ever, but I have put myself in some rather unique situations.
This past Friday was my birthday, so instead of the usual dinner at Jack Astor’s, being booth hogs for hours, we decided - correction, I decided - we should try something new. Cue, dining in the dark.
Naturally, I was met with many blank stares and complete disbelief when I told friends about my plan.
“Sylvia, really? You’re going to miss your mouth when you try to take a sip of Pinot!”
“Dinner in the dark? I would never do that, you’re a brave soul.”
“What’s wrong with Jack Astor’s?”
It’s because I love food experiences, duh.
I must admit, this is not for the faint of heart. It took some serious persuading to finally get all my friends on board with my big birthday plan. After traveling around downtown, getting an impromptu tattoo, and almost running out of gas on our way to the restaurant, we finally made it to O. Noir!
Dining at O. Noir was an experience unlike any other. It really challenges you as a person as you are forced to go outside of your comfort zone and trust the magic of it all.
We entered the restaurant and were immediately greeted by the cool embrace of dim lights. It was whimsical, yet, mysterious. We walked down a long corridor to meet our hostess. She presented us with menus and guided us over to a waiting area. The scarce lighting was so our eyes could adjust to the stark contrast between the bright outdoors and the pitch-black restaurant.
My friends and I opted to choose surprise appetizers (meat, seafood, or vegetarian) and then pick our entrées. Life’s too short not to be surprised every once in awhile! Once we had ordered, Gavin, our waiter instructed us to form a line and hold onto each other's shoulder.
We walked through one door, remaining linked together, slightly uncertain. We then proceeded through another door, and were immediately swallowed by COMPLETE DARKNESS.
Once we got past the initial shock, it sounded just like any other restaurant. People were chatting while cutlery clinked against plates and gentle music played in the background.
Gavin led us to our table instructing us of its configuration to help us navigate better. Once we were all seated, he brought us our drinks and appetizers. That was interesting! One by one, Gavin handed us our plates and beverages by meeting us at our left shoulder, where we then received our plates.
Round One: Appetizers
Take every moment and savour it!
What an interesting challenge it is to try and identify what you are eating! My vegetarian option was peculiar. There was both a warm and cold component. It tasted familiar, like something I always ate. I guessed it might be some sort of spinach salad. Next, my fork found its way to something warm, something that was charred or grilled. I took a bite. Yum! Smokey, yet earthy, with a rubbery texture. I struggled to figure out what it was that I was eating.
Despite not knowing, I kept eating! We should all try new foods like that. After a few more savoury bites, I finally cracked the code: Portobello mushrooms. Victory at last!
It was quite comical listening to all my friends trying to distinguish what it was that they were eating. Between mushrooms, pork, and calamari, most of us were able to make some kind of an educated guess!
Round Two: Entrées
My friends chose steak, chicken, and pasta dishes that I was told were fantastic. I had Mushroom Risotto with Shrimp and it was amazing… so amazing that I had to create a copycat recipe! When you’re in a lit restaurant, beautiful presentation can often heighten your perception of how well the meal tastes. In the pitch-black darkness of O.Noir, the food must taste good. The flavour profile is everything.
Guests rely on their sense of taste to judge the quality of the meal. I was so impressed by the complexity of flavours and varying textures. Each bite was a delicious surprise!
Despite what I had thought, my eyes never did adjust to the pitch-black setting. My mind did, however, start to games with me. Though I couldn't see anything, it was like my brain had mapped out our dinner table. By the end of our meal, I was no longer fumbling for my water glass, I just reached out and grabbed it.
Upon finishing our meals, we were then escorted out of the restaurant and into the waiting room once more. Wowza! Was it bright or what? It took some time before our eyes could readjust! Of course, once we could see again, we stumbled on a few realizations…
It’s probably best to wear dark clothing. Listen, there is almost a 100% possibility that you will make a mess. You’ve relied on your sense of sight your whole life, it’s only natural. Chances are that once you exit the restaurant, you will find leftover mashed potato on your shoulder, whether you ate mashed potatoes or not. Unless you really are a risk taker, wear all white.
My friends and I were also amazed at how much time had gone by. It seemed like we had only been in there for half-an-hour and were quite shocked to learn that it had actually been closer to two hours!
It’s funny how sometimes you can’t say certain things in the light of day. I swear, I thought I knew my friends… but man, dining in the dark changes a person. I learned that some of my friends were more adaptable to change, while others were not. That said, those who were most nervous about dinner, were also the ones who enjoyed it the most!
It’s also odd how we turned into instant food critics 😀 In living through this experience, we challenged ourselves to think about things differently, one of them being how the food was actually affecting us. We talked about texture, flavour, and eating as an experience. We sounded like a group of Gordon Ramseys giving our input on something that most of my friends don’t really ever think about!
Can you imagine living everyday of your life in darkness? I could not, but it’s a reality for those who are visually impaired. It was difficult just to sit down at our table and eat, I can’t imagine what it would be like to adapt in a world that isn’t always so accommodating for those who require support.
O.Noir is fantastic in this respect because it helps others to see things from a new angle. The restaurant also primarily employs those who are visually impaired to work as servers, providing excellent opportunities for those who might otherwise find it difficult to find work.
Darkness + Food = The Ultimate Sensory Experience
You don’t have to worry about the looks you’re going to get from someone if you can’t even see them! I found myself sharing some of my deepest insecurities and looking for advice where I usually would not have allowed myself to be in a vulnerable state.
Likewise, it seemed easier for my friends to just openly discuss whatever was on their mind. We could say just about anything without the anxiety of receiving odd looks or stares. Relationship woes, deepest fears, dark pasts… nothing was off limits! Do you know how freeing it is to just talk? I never realized just how guarded I was.
Dining in the dark helped me to realize that I should try to be more authentic and open with my feelings because chances are that your friends will not judge you. They are your friends for a reason, they will support you. By putting yourself in such an unprotected situation, completely in the dark without any knowledge of where anything is or who is seated next to you, you are forced to face your fears and really trust your gut.
If I learned anything, it would be to take advantage of the time and to let your ears do all the work. Normally, our eyes are fixated on what the table next door ordered, concentrated on our phone screens, and too interested in other things to actually listen to what our friends have to say.
Likewise, the act of sharing food ties us together. When we share a meal with someone we feel safe, a safety that can be echoed when we find ourselves in the dark. Isn't it easier to be yourself when no one can see you? Dining is just like that. The people you break bread with get to see another side of you; they learn to understand who you are as you share such an intimate experience together.
Darkness provides a sense of ease despite the compromising circumstances of not being able to see.
The temporary blindness acts as a blessing in disguise.
At first, it is challenging yet as time goes on, it helps in the bonding process. When we gather around the table and begin talking to one another, many times we learn that we are sitting amongst complete strangers. Not often do we have the time to just stop and sit and talk. If dining helps us connect with others, then adding the element of darkness simply furthers this effect.
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What is the most unique dining experience that you have ever had? I’m always up for a food-centred challenge; let me know what I should try next!