So for the first time in my life, it was acceptable to freely stick my fingers into every course of a three-course, fine-dining meal. My recent dinner was a little off the usual pace and probably one of, if not the, most interesting dining experiences I have ever enjoyed. So after deciding on each course for the evening, my friend and I were lead to our seats. We were sure this experience was going to be surreal. And yes, yes it truly was.
The restaurant is bustling! The usual restaurant chatter, sounds of pots and pans rattling behind the kitchen doors while a live jazz band plays wonderful tunes. The entire atmosphere is most enjoyable. Amazing smells waft from the kitchen. I don’t know what is cooking, but it’s certainly a combination of all delicious things. So much is happening around me, but there is one little twist. I am blinded. Here at Restaurant O.Noir guests dine in the dark. And by dark, I mean pitch black.
A concept that originated in Europe, and introduced to North America in 2005, the intention of O.Noir is to raise awareness of living with blindness. The intention was to provide a space and every day activity in this compromising situation so people would have a better understanding of the complications of being visually impaired.
And to just to add to the inspirational mix, all wait staff at O.Noir are also visually impaired.
So as I sit, I begin to absorb all that surrounds me. I am aware of more than I initially anticipated I would be. Surprisingly, I felt quite comfortable.
All orders are placed for either a two or three course meal before guests are lead to their seats. So for entrée I ordered the mushrooms.
Our waiter arrives with the first course and places my plate down in front of me saying entrée was served and bread and butter was to my left. So naturally I pick up my knife and fork and pause. Now what? Start stabbing the plate a hope for the best? Plan B quickly came to fruition. All I know is I have a mushroom dish and somewhere on the table is bread and butter. I have made assumptions about the dish, but really I have no idea.
So as I poke and prod at the plate in front of me, left hand index finger and fork held tightly (don’t want to drop it!) in my right hand, I learn about my plate.
The mushrooms are cold! Surprise number one. I smell them; they smell good. I find one and poke it with my fork hoping for the best. It makes it to my mouth and I chew. Delicious! Slow cooked mushrooms with garlic, white wine vinegar perhaps, a little oil and seasoning. They are simple, tasty and sitting on a bed of leaves.
And just to make matters more complicated, I decide I want to enjoy my warm bread roll with these delicious mushrooms juices. Left hand patting around the table, I find the bread plate. A little more patting, my finger goes straight into the butter tub. Not cool. So after a little bread tearing, knife finding and attempted butter spreading I have a warm and somewhat buttered roll. Brilliant! Now to find the mushrooms, again…
The main course is even more fun. I order the “surprise”, an entirely different dish from the regular menu and I have absolutely zero idea about what it will be or how I am best to tackle it. But I must say, I am excited for the challenge ahead!
The main course is served. In front of me I have a plate of top quality food and no idea what it looks like or what it is. I smell it to discover a slight sweetness but it’s not strong enough to determine much about the dish. I begin to touch what is on my plate. Something crumbes. There are two of them. They are long, rectangular and sit proudly towards the top of the meal. Crossed over and leaning towards the right side, they stand tall. Fish runs through my mind initially but only time will tell. On the base of the plate is something soft, thick and warm. A puree I would assume. Between the two, sits the accompaniments. Warm and tender, but firm enough to hold shape. My imagination runs.
I begin with the accompaniments. Pulling from the middle of the dish. Vegetables. Bite one, a roasted carrot. I reach for more discovering a fellow accompaniment, also roasted I believe but much more stringy! Celery. I decide to move on. Puree time. I dip my fork, as best I can, into the warm mix and I taste. Sweet. Smooth. Delicious. But I have no idea. I taste again and again. My friend suggests sweet potatoes and cream. Maybe, but I am not quite convinced. There is another flavour, I just can’t pick it.
The crumbing on the ‘star of the dish’ is delicious. Crispy, crunchy and what I can only imagine to be golden. I eat a mouthful but I don’t know what is inside. It’s not fish; the filling is too heavy. I am convinced it is some kind of meat. It’s in pieces, almost stringy. It’s packed in but becomes loose as I remove the crumbing. It feels shredded or pulled. There are other flavours but nothing overpowers the meat. In fact, the flavours are subtle. I poke around and begin to deconstruct. I find some ‘meat’ without crumbing to taste again. Shredded poultry? Not chicken, perhaps duck, but not quite rich enough. I taste again. It’s pork. It’s pulled pork. I love pulled pork!
As I continue to touch the food on my plate I discover roasted parsnip and decide the puree is pumpkin. My theory, after a lot of poking, touching, tasting, smelling, sharing, re-tasting and having a lot of fun, is “Crumbed pulled pork served with roasted parsnip, carrot and celery on a pumpkin puree’.
Almost. It was a sweet potato, carrot and orange puree. So close, yet so far…
Dessert. I had pre-decided on the chocolate mousse. Rich and heavy, but to die for! The mousse is dark (in flavour and I have no doubt in colour also) and smooth. Topped with a raspberry coulis that beautifully cuts through the richness perfectly. Some kind of crumbled biscuit sits, prettily I am sure, on the top. It is the ideal ending to an adventurous and amazing dining experience.
An evening of wonderful food, an enhanced appreciation of all I am blessed with and the realisation of the importance of truly knowing and understanding food, all came to mind. So for an evening of, literally, the blind leading the blind, I must say, it was nothing less than rich and successful!
O.Noir is located at 1631 Saint Catherine West. Reservations are required and can be arranged by phone, 514 937 9727, or online here.