It’s hard to imagine Toronto’s new-ish “dine in the dark” trend taking off in Niagara Falls, but it was also hard to believe how much buzz there is about it already here in Niagara.
O. Noir opened last summer in the Centre of the Universe, following others in Montreal and New York and a growing trend of European restaurants that serve their guests in a pitch black room, according to the restaurant’s website.
The idea is to heighten the senses of taste, smell and touch by denying diners of their sight. It’s also to give guests an appreciation for what it’s like to be blind. It’s O. Noir (like “au noir” – in the dark … get it?).
The restaurant’s owner built on a concept started by a blind Swiss pastor, who blindfolded his guests at home so they could understand his eating experience. Ten years ago, he started a dine-in-the-dark restaurant to teach people about blindness and create jobs for the blind.
Now that it’s just down the road, word has spread to Niagara and people are making the trip, fuelled by a combined sense of adventure, intrigue, curiosity and the desire to be the first in their circle to try it.
It all started a few weeks ago.
As a judge at the Rock the Ice Nights, the other judges were talking about it during a break in the Winter Festival of Lights battle of the bands contest. Patrick Gagliardi, a musician in The Cheezies, started a conversation with “Have you ever heard of that place …?”
Radio host Chris Barnatt and hairstylist/video-maker John Albanese were familiar with it. Pat had plans to go. Chris wanted to go. And John had heard of it and thought it would be a good idea.
Personally, the idea of eating in a pitch-black restaurant was completely foreign, but if this group of esteemed, hip and cultured gentlemen was into it, why not take their advice?
Well, the restaurant is in the basement of a Church Street apartment building. When you arrive, the lobby, coat check and bar area are lit like a normal restaurant. It has a mural of the Braille alphabet on the wall, and a poster from the Al Pacino movie Scent of a Woman behind the cash register.
That’s where you read the menu, place your order and wait for a table in one of the pitch-black rooms.
(The washrooms are also in the “normal” lighted area, to pre-empt one of the most common questions people ask when you tell them where you ate Saturday night).
All the wait staff are blind, so working in a dark room doesn’t matter to them. To find your seat, your party forms a conga line behind your server -your hand on her shoulder. Then you sit quietly in the dark, listening to funky techno-lounge music that contributes to the disorienting effect until someone works up the nerve to blurt out, “is there anybody else in here?”
“We were waiting to see how long it would take you to ask,” answers the woman at the next table.
It’s a challenge to remember where you left your wine glass. When the food comes, it’s decision time. Using the silverware is literally a shot in the dark as you try to pin down a morsel of something.
A dinner companion found it easier, and more sensual, to eat her shrimp with her fingers.
Sitting there in the dark, waiting for the grilled octopus to arrive one of the things that came to mind was -could this fly in Niagara Falls? (The other question was, ‘what the heck does grilled octopus look like?’)
Think about how much money some hotels spend decorating their posh restaurants, when something like this could start up at a fraction of the cost.
Dining in the dark is a strange sensation, but who’s to say it couldn’t work in Niagara Falls? After all, one of the landmark restaurants is shaped like a flying saucer.
There are all kinds of themed restaurants like Rainforest Cafe, to cater to tourists and Casa D’Oro or Carpaccio’s for the fine dining experience. There’s even a downtown restaurant on Queen Street that has a yoga studio and oxygen bar attached to it, so maybe dining in the dark wouldn’t be a stretch for this area.
But because Niagara Falls restaurants are catering to the tourists -mostly middle-Americans who like their steaks thick and baked potatoes smothered in sour cream -this kind of exotic experience might be a little bit too “out there” to work here. Or anywhere outside of Toronto, for that matter.
This article was originally posted on Niagara Falls Review