O Noir, Toronto
When I went to check out O Noir, a new concept restaurant that serves its patrons in the dark, it seemed a little odd: why was I on my way to take photos of a restaurant that, for all intents and purposes, is un-photographable? Really, if you’re not Samuel Beckett or David Lynch, it’s hard to capture utter darkness in any medium. But, when I arrived at the sunlit staircase leading to the clandestine spot in the subterranean area of the Town in Suites, I was pleasantly surprised; it’s not all just abysmal nothingness. The elusive basement restaurant actually has an elitist feel, not in a fake Yorkville kind-of-way, but in a distinctive new territory kind of way.
O Noir, in other words, is Toronto’s first completely dark restaurant. Though the smog-filled Canadian metropolis does tend to fancy itself on being at the top of the foody-chain; eating in the dark, without the power of night-vision, has, for at least five years, been a worldwide trend. This socially conscious concept first hit the scene when Jorge Spielmann, a blind pastor in Zurich, opened Blindekuh (German for Blind Cow). The project set out to teach the sighted about the sightless. Because the dark restaurant was a roaring success, others have emulated the idea in Los Angeles, New York, Australia, Montreal and finally here, with this O Noir outpost.
So how is it that people, after having survived a spill free night, return to a place, that on the surface, seems like a big gimmick? The truth is O Noir does have a dimly lit lounge that looks like a cross between a Victorian Salon and a turn of the century saloon. The time- warp of a space is quite open so that the blind staff, who all go through a three-month gruelling training process, can functionally manoeuvre throughout the area. If you never did get over your fear of the dark, the lounge, which twice weekly features a blind pianist, serves the full menu.
For those of you who never needed a nightlight, peruse the menu in the strangely disorienting space that is the lounge and then take your server’s lead into a completely lightless room to enjoy your prix fixe meal in the dark. Creator and owner Moe Alameddine maintains that the food must be top quality because when you are faced with a room that itself has nothing to offer all you have left is taste and smell and hopefully a dining partner with good conversational skills. The simple, two or three-course, menu, which intentionally eliminates all things white, due to their potential to glow in the dark, is quite palatable. Top tier items like filet mignon (sliced before served of course), grilled jumbo shrimp with risotto, and chicken breast with roasted aubergine, tomatoes, and mozzarella are among the choices on the card.
Still, one does wonder about the staying-power of a spot that relies so heavily on its few dishes tantalizing the taste-buds more intensely than if one was not bereft of vision. But, whether O Noir is a gimmicky concept, or not, there is one thing I can say about it for sure: it certainly changes the concept of a blind date.
Address: 620 Church Street, Toronto, ON
Area: Church Street Village
two seatings: 5:45pm and 9:00pm
Price Range: $$$ (Within Reach)
Payment: Master Card, Visa, Cash, Debit
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