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Dining in the dark cover

“I want maple syrup and the chance to trigger my own panic attack whilst dining in the dark…”

About 5 years ago when I was put into a coffin, I discovered I was sort of claustrophobic. This was in Japan—naturally—where one amusement park’s idea of scary fun was locking participants into a wooden coffin and playing a soundtrack of unsettling noise. I practically broke through the coffin and its damn lock like a crazed zombie. Turns out, I find it quite uncomfortable being enclosed in wood.

Fast forward to me eagerly making a reservation at O.Noir in Montreal, one of the many “dining in the dark” restaurant experiences luring in eaters with promises of sensory overload and slightly sexy undertones (“Whose hand is this?!”). With only one night in Montreal for New Years, it was this establishment and a legit Sugar Shack that won by heart. Forget authentic French food. I want maple syrup and the chance to trigger my own panic attack whilst dining in the dark.

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Some dark history of dining in the dark

Dining in the Dark experiences started in Europe as a way to introduce those with sight to a snippet of time without it. Many of the restaurants are actually run by visually impaired individuals. It is said that during your meal, the sensations are magnified. You taste the nuances of your food. You feel your food and become aware of your body. It all sounded kinda bullshit to me. And gimmicky. But I sure do love me a gimmick.

The reviews for this particular dining in the dark restaurant seemed promising. The wait staff is entirely blind, as O.Noir works with an organization called Horizon Travail which helps train visually impaired people to enter the workforce. In fact, part of your proceeds go to help this organization. Super cool and super amazing considering that over 70% of visually impaired people are without jobs. Plus, with the slogan “It’s better in the dark,” I like their style.

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Try not to puke

“I became fascinated with the feel of the champagne glass on my lips…”

Upon arrival at the sleek restaurant, we sat down for a glass of champagne. Perhaps to calm the nerves. Perhaps to entice us to order more drinks. The host took down our allergies and food aversions, before we made our way upstairs to the waiting room. It is here that our blind server led us into the room, my hand on his shoulder and Robbie’s on mine. I started to hyperventilate ever so slightly. “Close your eyes. It’ll be less disorienting if your eyes aren’t searching for light,” said the server. You got it.

Dining in the dark Montreal menu

The room felt small, given the conversations ricocheting in various directions. Our table was against a wall—for security, I’m sure—and I managed to “gracefully” sit down and keep both my water glass and champagne class upright the entire time. A few incredible things happened. First, I quickly got over my fear and kept my eyes opened. Second, we immediately shut up. To our right was a group of six college girls: loud, flirty, progressively drunker and basic with each minute. It was way more enjoyable to listen to them as inhibitions let loose.

We were served four courses, each incredibly delicious and varied in texture. Think sashimi with crunchies on top and duck with fruit compote. Sure, I suppose my taste buds were amplified but I was much more aware of my sense of touch than I would have thought. I could only fathom the size of the meal and how much I finished using my hands. I became fascinated with the feel of the champagne glass on my lips. Food was smeared on my face and dropped it in my lap and I so wanted to forgo my utensils. Would anyone notice?

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The verdict when it comes to dining in the dark

I was saddened to not learn more about our server but wasn’t sure how appropriate it was to ask. Plus, the ladies next to us had no issue asking theirs a full spectrum of questions. Punctuated with “literally” ever other word. I think someone practically fell out of their chair when they learned their server has actually traveled.

Besides the food, as splendiferous as it was, I was happy to find the experience both humbling and quite calming. The conversations around us painted the room. I thought about my iPhone and the outfit I chose that evening and everything else that normally distracts me from a routine dining experience. It was all taken away. And for an hour or so, I was forced to concentrate on senses I often neglect. And they are awesome. #blessed #grateful and all that shit.

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For more dining fun, check out my list for the best coffee in Tokyo as well as my favorite restaurants there.

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