By MICHAELA RITCHIE
Marveling over the artistry of a dish is usually half the fun when you go out to dine at an upscale downtown restaurant—just ask anyone with an Instagram account! But there’s a new dark horse saddling up in Calgary’s culinary scene with plans to turn the tables on local diners: Dark Table. It’s the first restaurant of its kind in our city, where the table (as well as everything on and around it) is shrouded in complete darkness for the duration of your meal.
Though the idea of eating blind may be mystifying for many (indeed, this is the draw for most patrons), bringing this unique culinary concept to Calgary was no stab in the dark for owner Moe Alameddine. The new Calgary restaurant is the fourth in his chain of Dark Table and O Noir venues, after Montreal (2006), Toronto (2009), and Vancouver (2012). Alameddine brought the concept over to Canada after first learning of it in Switzerland eleven years ago, and says the experience boasts surprising culinary benefits for those who dare to dine in the dark.
“You can smell the foods more, you can smell your drinks more, you can smell the aroma – the fresh herbs and spices,” Alameddine previously told Global News Calgary of the experience.
After being received in a dimly lit lounge, patrons are prompted to check their coats and bags away in storage lockers. No light-producing devices may be allowed in the dining room, in order to retain total darkness, which means no illuminated interruptions from cellphones or watches while you eat. It is in this bar that diners pre-order their meal from a minimalistic menu—choices of entrée include steak, chicken, fish, lamb, a vegetarian dish to which prawns can be added, and a vegan serving of ratatouille. Attendees can also choose to be surprised for their entrée (“you know you want to” says the menu). What you’ll be served for an appetizer and desert is, similarly, anyone’s guess, and there’s even a surprise cocktail hidden at the bottom of the beverage selections.
But as Alameddine explains, Dark Table does not only aim to surprise its guests—it also hopes to enlighten them, as the Shakespeare quote on the wall in the entry might suggest. Once you place your order, a server appears from behind the thick black curtain leading to the dining room. The grin on their face as bright as their glasses are dark. Our server, Tiana, lost her sight when she was just three years old, and heard about the “guide server” position at Dark Table through the Canadian Institute for the blind. Dark Table only hires serving staff who are visually impaired.
“It’s an incredible concept and a very good social cause,” Alameddine told Global. “You do something for the blind community, and for [patrons] – they want to have a unique dining experience.” While guests dine in the dark as a blind person would on an every day basis, they are invited to interact with their servers and ask them as many questions about their own experiences as they would like.