Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Social Experiment

In America we eat, collectively, with a glum urge for food to fill us. We are ignorant of flavour. We are as a nation taste-blind.” M.F.K. Fisher

There is a new restaurant ‘phenomenon’ on the Montreal food scene called O.Noir that I must comment on and see what you think. This St. Catherine Street restaurant invites you to experience food, drink and conversation like never before-in the DARK. Their website claims that it is “..a sensual dining experience like no other” and that it is all the rage in Europe, Australia, New York and L.A.

Now if you ask Danny, he’s already experienced this at home during the Ice Storm of ’98, but I think they are striving for something a little classier. The general manager claims that when you eat without your sight, your remaining senses are heightened to savour the smell and taste of food. He does have a point, but really, are we ready to go to this length to experience food at a new level? I’m sceptical. As a chef, the visual aspect in enjoying a plate of food is too important to leave out alltogether. I love the moment when the plates arrive at the table and I scan around checking out the dishes, portion size, presentation and garnishes.

Another twist to this whole dining in the dark is that the entire wait staff are blind and a portion (5%) of the proceeds go to associations that serve the blind. A cause to be admired, there is no doubt; however, what would be really amazing would be if the kitchen crew were blind, or at least worked in the dark. Insurance would be brutal!

Before you decide that this would be the perfect place for a blind date, let me alert you to a few things that I might consider before going to see this place (not literally, of course). I mean, it does sound like it could be a lot of fun if you were with the right person, but there a few too many opportunities for a mishap...such as:

  • What if there is a hair in your food? The staff are visually impaired, but no one said anything about follically impaired as well. Hair in the food happens, as much as we would like to pretend it doesn’t.
  • What if you have an allergy to nuts and an absentminded cook tosses some toasted almonds into your salad. Oops. Too bad about that one.
  • What if the young lovers at the table beside you have a little too much to drink, forget where they are, and loose themselves in the moment?
  • What if you are trying a new wine at $60 a bottle and they mess up and bring you a $20 bottle? Would you know the difference?
  • What if the waiter removes your plate without asking, or worse, feel if you are finished. Aye!

I guess it would come down to trust, and here we would find ourselves facing some of the issues blind people encounter every day.
Now this would be a lot more interesting if I had actually eaten at this restaurant and was reporting on my experience, but I just don't feel like giving them my coin yet. There are still plenty of other Montreal establishments where I can have a 'sensual' dining experience, or just a five-star fabulous meal. But just so you can have an idea of what to expect if you go, here is a excerpt from Mr. Slutski's (!) recent review in the Montreal Mirror:

“We all felt pretty giddy when we were first seated; the novelty really was very entertaining, and there was a lot of fun to be had in trying to explore this weird new space. After being there for over an hour, though, a certain pleasant tranquility set in. And overall, accidents were few, the tally coming to one thumb in a pat of butter; one waterfall of salad that ended up on my pants; one forkful of risotto colliding with a shoulder and, just when we thought we were out of the woods, one broken wineglass. Also, one of my dining companions later revealed that after a spill with a piece of octopus he proceeded to strip off his t-shirt and spend the rest of the meal shirtless, which must be some sort of health violation.”

I’m sure it is. Montreal has a wild reputation and I think I would be a bit nervous wondering what other people were up to….

The whole Slutski review.

I believe you also have to love the element of surprise to visit O.Noir. In scanning their website I notice that they offer a ‘surprise entrée’, and that they have live music every Sunday-a band of blind musicians and a ‘mystery singer’. No kidding? Are we to know anything at all? Something makes me wonder if we’re allowing the wool to be pulled over our eyes.

Feel free to report back to me if you decide to try it out. I get the feeling that someone lost a bet or else is trying to win one with this restaurant and I’ll be curious to see how long it lasts.


Zaak said...

Kind of Gimmicky. I like the idea of having visually impaired waiters. I worked at a blind camp for 7 years and found how functional they are around a dining area.

I found the website to the place here.

April said...

I pass by that place often and wondered what it was all about

Anonymous said...

This is seriously weird. I agree about the plating of the food - must see the presentation!

akaSuperMatt said...

Definitely agree on the plating can you have a "sensual experience" without involving all the senses?
plus, you probably can't see all the nasty crap that gets crusted on the floor when you accidentally drop something off a plate.

kelli ann & lorie said...

this would make for an interesting dinner experience at home: eating with our eyes closed. your dining out experiences (& photos!) are making me hungry! and i have to agree with you about mont st-hilaire & its apple orchards and their loveliness: esp. right around now, when they must all be gloriously in bloom. oh, my. cheers!


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