Friday, July 31, 2009

a night of new experiences in the T dot

A few nights ago i had the pleasure of experiencing 2 very new and exciting sense related experiences in the large, fair, garbage filled city of toronto. The first was a restaurant called O Noir, and the second, a cocktail lounge called barchef.

What to say about O Noir... if you haven't heard, its not the first "in the dark" culinary experience in the world, but it is the first of its kind in our vicinity, and it had to be tried. Basically you walk down a set of stairs into the subterranean. You walk into a dark, dankly lit but classy hallway, and are greeted by very friendly people. You then navigate a little further and have a seat at the bar where you make your choice on 3 courses and initial drinks (32$ for 2 courses, 39$ for 3). Once all the decisions have been made you are led through a door "into the dark".

By into the dark, i mean into the absolute PITCH BLACK. It is complete sensory depravation. You are led in by very friendly, completely blind wait staff who keep chanting "careful" every 5 seconds as you are linked up, hand on shoulder with the person in front of you. A few minor bumps along the way and you sit down to be instructed where your cutlary are, put your bags on the floor, and start soaking in the feeling that you are completely BLIND. It is CRAZY weird, and i was honestly freaking out for the first 10 or 20 minutes (until the wine arrived).

The wait staff was very nice and frequently stopped by to bring the courses, and/or take requests. I ordered the octopus for my app, pasta for the main dish, and "the surprise" for dessert. Any course could be a surprise, and we were told it would be something distinct from the menu. Other options were calamari on greens, stuffed portobello caps, steak, risotto, chocolate cake and ice cream, mousse, and sorbet (and a few others). The menu was, well, less than amazing, but i'll get to that in a sec.

Dishes came and went pretty quickly actually, as did the wine. We initially ordered one bottle, then another, but we didn't actually pour anything - the server would just bring you glasses as you asked for them. The 2nd bottle went really fast, but without seeing it its hard to know how that actually happened. Eating in the dark takes some serious getting used to. As does talking, drinking, and well interacting in general. Having a conversation without observing the mannerisms is totally bizarre. We spent a good chunk of the meal simply discussing the experience of being without sight. It is remarkable, and i highly recommend it. I am a claustrophobic, easily anxious person, and i worked through it and had an amazing experience.

The one downside, which was only really realized upon reflexion after the meal was over, was that the food really wasn't very good. The meal options were quite standard, and the tastes were not overwhelming. It could have been SO much more. I would not have minded the standard options so much if the food actually tasted amazing. Now perhaps this could have been because of lack of sight, but if so, the proprietors should get on that and mix it up to have a more potent selection. The octopus had a very nice flavour, but the big chunky pieces were really chewy, and frankly not appropriate for eating in the dark! The pasta, same thing - flavour was really mild, and pieces of rigatoni in the dark - not remarkable. How about an orzo? Or even spaghetti with a creaming sauce? Or cannelloni even? Just SO standard, it could have been so much more!!

I think for this reason you should probably go to O Noir while you can - the price is right for this amazing experience, and i don't think it will last forever. Its a gimmick, one thats great, but unless they overhaul the culinary portion of it they will have very little repeat business, and likely not last forever.

Now on to the second, and actually more amazing experience of the night - barchef. Its this new, also dark abode where they serve from very classy, to ridiculously amazing molecular beverages (plus some delightful sounding apps, but we weren't there for the food).

The atmosphere of barchef is very appealing (to us anyways). Gorgeous wallcoverings and frames, amazing light fixtures, huge comfortable and roomy chairs. Its first come first serve with apparently no standing room so get there early. The place smells amazing and apparently all the ingredients are fresh/local/organic/whatever. There is a hunk of ice on the bar - no cubes here, just a pick and a bit of muscle!! There is an absinthe decanter/pourer on the bar too, ask the owner dude to tell you about it (he picked it up for 20$!!). Its just really nice and comfortable in there.

All the "recession" drinks are their "standard" drinks, but they are anything but standard, and at 8$ its a standard price at a decent club/lounge making it win win, and perhaps the best mixed drink you ever had.

My first drink however was off the molecular menu, and because of my lack of decision making and newfound risk taking desire, i ordered the "cocktail du jour" - i didn't even think to ask what it was coming from o noir and surprises and all. Everyone elses drinks arrived first amidst ooo's and aww's. My drink arrived on a plate/saucer 3 wide, and it was actually 2 drinks, with a ravioli in the middle. The drinks were, well, absolutely amazing - they were a gin base, had funky foam, one was burnt (a la creme brule), had chartreuse, mint, coriander, and i don't even know what else... holy crap, amazing. But the most amazing thing was the ravioli. Now this is not the typical ravioli, its some chemically created hunk of concentrated drink (in my case, mojito) in a little nugget shape, with a mint leaf and a little something else. When you put the spoon with the ravioli into your mouth, your supposed to slurp it onto your tongue (like an oyster), let it sit, then press down. And boy, it was a taste/flavour explosion!! It was literally the most concentrated most amazing taste type experience ever. It was fleeting, but i'd do it again in a heartbeat. Coming in at 20$ for the 2 cocktails + ravioli, this was highly worth it. All of the molecular drinks ranged from 15->45$ so they are not cheap, but everytime i can guarantee it will be an experience like no other. My other drink was caramelized banana which also had the most unique taste you could imagine - i wasn't a huge fan as it was quite strong and i'm a bit of a wus when it comes to strong hard liquors, but it was an experience nonetheless (that was easily polished off by others at the table).

Anyways, if you're in toronto anytime soon, and looking for a new experience, something truly different, i highly recommend checking either/both of these places out. I really enjoy my occasional visits to the T dot, they definitely have more of a range of neat places to shop and visit and eat and drink at, and its worth soaking them in from time to time as its very close to the O dot.

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