Mike Cohen and Glenn J. Nashen wax nostalgic with a great meal at Nickels Deli

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By Mike Cohen

For MTLRestoRap.com

Nickels Deli (https://nickelsdeli.com) has been serving customers since 1990. The chain was originally owned by singer Céline Dion and the Mammas brothers, Lawrence and Peter.  The latter two, along with Jacques Gaspo, eventually folded the operation into their Foodtastic (www.foodtastic.ca) company which today includes Carlos and Pepe’s, Sandouchon. Souvlaki Bar, La Belle & La Boeuf, Vinnie Gambini, Bacaro, Gatto Matto, Le Blossom and most recently Enoteca Monza.

Restaurant industry veteran David DiRaddo was recently appointed director of operations for the 11 Nickels locations in Quebec. This includes the chain’s first ever food court express location at Place Vertu.  David suggested Glenn and I meet him at the still rather new St. Léonard franchise, located in a shopping mall on Jean Talon near Pie IX. Open since July 2018, we were greeted by David and manager Sam Kassar.  The spot has a very clear sports theme, with a large mural featuring some of Montreal’s outstanding sports heroes. There are also logos of the Canadiens, Alouettes, Impact and Expos embedded in the brick wall, as well as no less than 10 flat screen televisions showing the best games of  the day and night and a full bar. With seating for 180 people, this Nickels has already attracted a warm following.

Mike Cohen and Glenn J. Nashen wax nostalgic with a great meal at Nickels Deli

Besides St. Léonard and Place Vertu, you can find the other Nickels franchises on Marcel Laurin Blvd. in St. Laurent, Dorval, Place Versailles, Rue St-Hubert, Laval, St. Jérôme, Sainte-Adèle, Joliette and Gatineau.

The first thing you need to know about Nickels is that it has a gigantic menu. It is updated and reprinted each July while an insert with different specials is changed quarterly. Known for its smoked mea, Nickels also features terrific appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, salads, pastas, pizza, chicken, steak, ribs, seafood, milkshakes, desserts, a kids menu and other satisfying options. There is a breakfast menu served each morning which DiRaddo has designs on making available all day as well as lunch specials.

Mike Cohen and Glenn J. Nashen wax nostalgic with a great meal at Nickels Deli
St. Léonard restaurant manager Sam Kassar.

Kassar recommended that we begin by sharing a family platter, which includes onion rings with dijonnaise dip, four mozzarella sticks with marinara sauce, quesadillas with vegetables and cheese and four chicken wings. We also added to the platter some nacho corn tortilla chips, with melted Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses.

Mike Cohen and Glenn J. Nashen wax nostalgic with a great meal at Nickels Deli

The three of us then shared a virtual feast: a jumbo smoked meat sandwich, General Tao tempura chicken with rice, baby back ribs basted with Sweet Baby Ray’s bbq sauce, an eight ounce aged Angus top sirloin steak and an order of red skin potato fries.

Mike Cohen and Glenn J. Nashen wax nostalgic with a great meal at Nickels Deli

Glenn and I divided up the leftovers and saved room for two of the restaurants more popular desserts: the strawberry cheesecake and the truly decadent Celine chocolate cake.

Mike Cohen and Glenn J. Nashen wax nostalgic with a great meal at Nickels Deli

In Glenn’s case, he had not been to a Nickels restaurant in many years and the variety offered on the current menu truly surprised him.

“It is an older brand and we are reviving it,” said DiRaddo.

From Sunday to Thursday after 4 pm, children 10 and under eat for free.  This is applicable of course to kids accompanied by an adult who have ordered a main dish at a regular price. Only one child per adult.

It will be interesting to see what comes next for the Nickels brand. The food court format appears to be a big hat, so there could be more of those locations and I can certainly think of many places in Quebec which could benefit from a restaurant with such a diversified menu. Log on to the full menu at www.nickelsdeli.com.

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Mike Cohen & Glenn J. Nashen enjoy a full Eggspectation experience

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By Mike Cohen

For MTLRestoRap.com

I have long been a fan of the Eggspectation (www.eggspectation.com) restaurant chain. A few years ago I met Enzo Renda, who has driven this business globally with a presence in other parts of Canada, the United States, India, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Renda says that Eggspectation is known for the high quality of its products. “We use real maple syrup, not table syrup,” he says. “We use mega eggs as well.  Our French toast is made with real French brioche bread. The fact is if I do not have quality food then I do not put it on the table.”

There are actually more than 100 plus items on the Eggspectation menu. This place is a lot more than just breakfast.

The Eggspectation concept was created by Eggspectation Group, with a first restaurant in downtown Montreal in 1993. Since then Eggspectation restaurants have become synonymous with innovation, high-quality food, excellent service, and a unique and exciting dining experience.

Each franchise has a different feel to it. My friend Glenn J. Nashen and I were happy to pay a visit to the locale at 5179 Côte des Neiges Road, close to Queen Mary.

Manager Alexandra Pinna serves up a winning selection.

This franchise opened nine years ago and sits 100 people. Manager Alexandra Pinna, who has been there from day one, greeted us at the front and showed us to a nice table. Let me say from the outset that this was truly an entirely different and very satisfying Eggspectation experience for Glenn and me thanks to Alexandra’s excellent suggestions. Whereas in the past we have merely tried the basic egg options, we went well beyond that this time.

We started things off with some smoothies opting for the peanut butter and jam!!  This has all the flavour of your classic sandwich swirled into a sweet and nutty drink. peanut butter, strawberry jam and bananas with honey and yogurt.

That was a great way to kick things off. Alexander recommended that we share a couple of starters. We sought her opinion and settled on the Smoked Wild Sockeye Salmon Crostini. This encompasses smoked wild sockeye salmon, served with capers, red onions and cucumbers, with Philadelphia cream cheese spread on toasted ciabatta slices.  We added the Eggspectation’s Original Crab Cake, the chain’s own rendition of the classic crabcake on a bed of spicy slaw and topped with a dollop of lemon aioli.

Glenn and I never thought of having a burger at Eggspectation. Well, burgers here are made with Triple A Butcher’s Block reserve angus Beef and served on an artisanal brioche bun with fries or a mixed field green salad. There was a mushroom swiss burger on the lunch special menu and we split everything in half. It was quite superb!  Added to the order was the Lobster Benny- two perfectly poached eggs accompanied by gently sautéed Maritime lobster on a toasted  English muffin and a natural lobster reduction sauce.

Their trademark and most delicious Lyonnaise-style potatoes were of course included.

Well yes we were full. But Alexandra urged us to consider a dessert so we opted for the Crepe Suzette -flaming flavour from a flambéed butter and orange brandy sauce.

Indeed you will have a tough time choosing between dishes: crepes, soups, salads, omelets, pasta, steak, chicken, seafood, sandwiches, or our famous Eggs Benedict and fresh squeezed orange juice! Freshly prepared with high-quality ingredients and attractively presented, this menu only has one flaw: you could eat too much like Glenn and I.

With seating for 100 people, this franchise is very popular with the Université de Montréal crowd and diners in general. I saw people of all ages when were there. Tables are setup along two long rows. A couple of large flat screen TVs allow patrons to watch their favorite game.

I encouraged the ownership group to consider staying open on Saturday evenings. They took that suggestion under advisement.

This Eggspectation is located at  5179 Côte des Neiges. Hours of operation are 7 am to 3:30 pm Monday to Friday and 8:00 am to 4:30 pm on weekends. For more information call 514-507-4499 or log on to www.eggspectation.com

A Bintel Brief: Yiddish Theatre alive and well in Montreal

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A review by Glenn J. Nashen

NEW: Now featured in the Jewish Standard Magazine!

 

The Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre opened its 60th season this week with its latest production of A Bintel Brief. This performance at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts  is brought back to the stage after it originally opened in Montreal in the 1970s. It is a story based upon real letters to the editor of a Yiddish language daily newspaper in New York City in the early 1900s.

 

The production is composed of a series of true stories of Jewish immigrants coming to America and trying to adapt to their new world. It not only connects the stories of immigrants in the early 20th century to their former lives in Russia and Europe but it also connects them to their descendants 100 years later.

 

A Bintel Brief peeks inside the immigrant experience of long ago and reminds us that little has changed and that the struggles and efforts made are both timeless and universal.

 

The show is brought to life by budding director Michelle Heisler who has previously acted in the DWYT and works with young children’s theatre. Heisler is a talented actor and singer having performed on stage across Canada, the United States and Europe.

 

The cast is an energetic and spirited group of youngsters, young adults and older folk who come together as though they were a true family.

Sam Stein and Aron Gonshor (Courtesy CJNews.com)

Aron Gonshor and Sam Stein are iconic in the DWYT and for good reason. Their vaudeville singing and dancing with old-fashioned, side-splitting humour kept the audience in tears of laughter. Their shtick was out of Wayne and Shuster and they were classic funnymen. They also took on serious roles in skits ranging in theme from overworked and underpaid, depressed immigrants to tragic episodes involving loss of life and great despair. If there are lifetime achievement awards for outstanding performance in Yiddish theatre this duo is certainly right for the prize.

 

Mikey Samra is known for  his many performances in the Cote Saint-Luc Dramatic Society but his stage presence in Yiddish was equally spectacular. He is a compelling young actor who will continue to flourish in whatever language he chooses.

 

Jodi Lackman has played at the Segal before but her performance in A Bintel Brief takes the cake. Her facial expressions and shrieking voice at learning her husband has another wife and children, her melodramatic overtones in yearning for her secret lover and her comedic expressions are worthy of praise and applause.

 

The list of talented and dedicated young actors who have put in tremendous effort to speak a language that is probably quite foreign to most of them is long and impressive. Kudos to all of them for entertaining the audience with song and dance, with drama and comedy and by keeping the language and rich history alive.

 

One particular skit involves a class of immigrants trying to learn to speak English. It is ridiculously funny with mispronunciation and misunderstanding. I could just imagine my Bubby and Zaida in such a class with their thick yiddishe accents trying to learn their new language. Indeed, I still remember the words of my very funny Russian-born Zaida who’d say, “I speak 12 languages and don’t understand any of them!”

 

The stage was simple and old fashion in the Segal Centre’s smaller theatre. Presented with English and French supertitles it is an easy-to-understand show even if you’re not fluent in mama-loschen. The four piece band was fun and lively under the musical direction of Nick Burgess.

 

Despite the young children who sing and dance in the first act (they leave at intermission to get home for bedtime) the heavy adult themes would give this musical performance a PG-13 rating, not age appropriate for pre-teens.

 

DWYT President Ben Gonshor thanked the capacity opening-night audience for continuing to support community theatre, particularly in Yiddish. With such great benefactors such as Alvin Segal, Barbara Seal and the Azrielli Foundation and Federation CJA Montrealers are fortunate in that they will continue to be treated to such memorable and entertaining evenings for years to come.

 

A Bintel Brief continues at the Segal Centre though October 21. Tickets are available at SegalCentre.org or by calling 514-739-7944.

 

A West End Little Oasis: Jardin Iwaki

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Published on MTLRestoRap

A review by Glenn J. Nashen

Tadayuki Endo is hard at work in his tiny kitchen creating tasty and delectable masterpieces

You may have driven by this tiny, unassuming restaurant for years and never even noticed it was there. My chance outing to this little oasis exemplifies that wonderful surprises are sometimes located closer than you think.

 

Tadayuki Endo has been a part of the restaurant scene in Montreal for over 30 years, the past six as the owner of The Jardin Iwaki where he has been serving up impressive Japanese cuisine to the West End. The longtime chef spent many years downtown at Sakura Japanese cuisine and the iconic Desjardins seafood restaurant. But after two decades of serving up dishes to common diners and prime ministers, Endo decided it was time to turn his attention to finer detail. Ever since he has focused on each and every dish that he thoroughly prepares for each customer.

 

And so began Endo’s venture into the Kaiseki traditional Japanese cuisine in which a series of small, intricate dishes are prepared. Each dish is unique and prepared in one of 11 different styles of cooking including fried, grilled, baked and steamed.

I entered the 12 seat restaurant with my mother and daughter and we immediately felt as though we entered a typical Japanese home: warm and inviting, bamboo and wood, not too bright with traditional decor. We were greeted by our smartly uniformed server, Tomomi, a lovely young woman who has been at Jardin Iwaki for the past three years (having arrived from Japan just four-and-a-half years ago).

 

With a mere four tables to seat 12 diners, quaint would be an understatement to this really small establishment.

 

The menu was simple, posted on three blackboards, summing up the nightly offerings. The ‘Iwaki’ seven course menu is $35, the ‘Edo’ seven course menu is $45 and must be ordered a day in advance and the ‘Omakase’ (dishes selected by the chef) menu runs from $55 depending on how many courses you choose (from 8 to 11). The latter must be ordered three days in advance. We opted for the first and we were in for a surprise.

Endo creates dishes that are appealing to look at as well as to eat. Notice the season-appropriate red maple leaf. Such detail.

Tomomi quietly and elegantly fluttered about the room serving the two larger tables. She patiently explained each and every dish in detail as she delivered the courses and laid the unique, handcrafted dinnerware upon the bamboo placemats. Each of the six courses was  served in different types of handcrafted vessels (dishes, shells, bowls) with intricate designs, shapes and textures.

 

Our interesting appetizers consisted of edamame with cream cheese, chicken liver paté, chicken breast, fried shrimp, shimeji mushroom and baby scallops. Each  dish was creatively and seasonally-appropriate. As an added touch, one dish was adorned with a small red maple leaf, hand picked by Endo.

 

Next came the soba noodle salad. What a pleasant texture made from buckwheat and covered with tofu, tomato and green leaves. It was juicy, salty and very flavourful with three dressings: ginger, sesame and a mentsuyu glaze. All are home made by Endo.

Nicole enjoys the delicate presentation and the delicious taste

The warm sea bass carpaccio was served raw and thinly sliced on a beautifully crafted dish. Tomomi drizzled the fish with boiling sunflower oil right at our table and within seconds it was perfectly cooked – piping hot and lightly sprinkled with sesame seeds. Oh, so juicy!

 

A mini Japanese pancake called Okanomiyaki with ginger, mayonnaise and bonito fish was brought out. The fish consisted of shavings set upon the pancake made of flour, cabbage and ginger. It was so hot that the shavings literally swayed back and forth. Wow. It had a tangy bbq sauce unlike the previous courses.

Mom loves the look, the taste and the ambiance

The small delicious dishes kept coming, each one unique in its taste and presentation. A grilled butterfish was next with a negi miso (or green onion) sauce. It was served with pumpkin, rapini and vinegar white radish; what a savoury morcel, laid upon a thin slice of orange. It was one of the best white fish I’ve ever had. My dinner guests were equally pleased.

 

I love mushroom but never before tasted a soup with five kinds of mushroom and rice. There were enoki, oyster, shimeji, kikurage, and shiitake mushrooms. Sensational and so very hot. A spectacular ending to a wonderful meal and unique dining experience.

Tadayuki Endo in his warm and cozy Jardin Iwaki

Jardin Iwaki is only open for dinner (but seven nights a week). Reservations are a must as we witnessed: a family of five entered, saw there was no more room and said they’d be back another night. I was told they are regulars. Endo says many of his customers return again and again and we certainly learned why.

 

My daughter said it was the “prettiest” meal she had ever eaten. My mother proclaimed Jardin Iwaki as an excellent dining experience. The small dishes don’t seem like a lot of food on their own but it all added up to a nicely filling meal, she said.

 

Endo takes great pride in working every single night. He takes his time to ensure that everything is just right with great attention to detail. As fresh fish is delivered to Montreal twice a week he is sure to go to market frequently to buy small portions of whatever is in season.  

 

Many Montreal Japanese restaurants are western-style, Endo tells me. Not here. Jardin Iwaki is an authentic experience throughout.

 

Jardin Iwaki is located at 5887 Sherbrooke St. West in Notre Dame de Grace, nestled among many cosy ethnic restaurants, lounges and grocery stores in the residential neighbourhood. There are only 12 seats indoors with a small terrasse. Remember, reservations are a must and some menus must be ordered in advance. 514-482-1283.

Jazz and symphony fills CSL at Cat’s Meow Concert

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Musicians of the World Symphony Orchestra on stage in Cote Saint-Luc

 

The Côte Saint-Luc Cats Committee (CSLCC) held its annual fundraising concert last night at the former Wagar High School auditorium featuring the Musicians of the World Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Joseph Milo. As an added treat the Gideon Vigderhous Quartet performed as did vocalists Alexandra Cohen and Nicole Arrage.
Funds raised from The Cat’s Meow Concert will go towards the CSLCC’s Trap, Neuter, Release and Adopt Program and Educhat.
There are many feral cats in the community. The CSLCC’s team of volunteers sets out to trap as many as possible, have them sterilized and then adopted or returned to the spot where they were originally found. The committee has also rescued a number of  kittens and found homes for them.
The Musicians of the World Symphony Orchestra (MWSO) was founded in 2006 by conductor Milo and his wife Lucy Ravinsky. This one of a kind orchestra was formed when it was discovered that a great pool of professional musicians, recently immigrated to Montreal, had no opportunity to make use of their valuable talent in their new home. The MWSO was created, not only to provide these new Canadians with the opportunity to engage in their main passion; making beautiful music in an orchestral setting, but to give them back the professional dignity they had enjoyed in their homelands and most especially, to share their wonderful talents with the music lovers of Montreal.
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Gideon Vigderhous blasts beautiful notes on the sax

The MWSO is composed of 55 musicians: about 80 percent of its members are from 15 countries around the world, while the remaining 20 percent are natives of Montreal who successfully facilitated the integration of the newcomers. The orchestra has entertained Montreal audiences with numerous performances, including many benefit concerts as well as having produced several recordings. The orchestra has also been selected as the subject of four documentary films. They have been rehearsing at Cote Saint-Luc City Hall for many years and as part of the arrangement, they agree to perform a free concert once a year.
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Spearheaded by Councillor Mike Cohen who is passionately responsible for Animal Welfare, this group has been focused for several years on controlling the stray feline population that number in the thousands through humane measures. Cohen had co-chaired the event for many years with former Cllr. Sam Goldbloom, another cat lover who was in attendance. Rookie Cllr. Mitch Kujavsky is Cohen’s new partner in the concert program. Kujavsky proudly announced he is a cat and dog owner.
Conductor Joseph Milo and his orchestra did a superb job of entertaining the capacity audience. The evening began with two solo numbers by vocalist Alexandra Cohen who later acted as emcee. Alexandra is a McGill second year medical student who loves to perform and sing on stage. She was bubbling over with charisma as she sang with a huge smile.
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Cellists of the Musicians of the World Symphony Orchestra

The Gideon Vigderhous Quartet were sensational performing many jazz swing standards. Their talent and improvisation and passion are written across their faces and worth following to their next appearance.
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Jazz vocalist Nicole Arrage wows the audience

 

Another treat was the vocal accompaniment to both the quartet and the symphony by Nicole Arrage.
Earlier this year Arrage was co-narrator of the CSL Dramatic Society (her second year on stage with CSLDS) performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. She is a McGill University Schulich School of Music student in jazz voice performance. She sang beautifully with an impressive range in style and pitch. Nicole performed a terrific number with the quartet called ‘After Midnight’ showing her talent in jazz and scat. She also joined the symphony in a rendition of ‘Summertime’ as well as a playful number called, ‘Everyone Wants to be a Cat.’ Clearly she is full of personality and talent.
The symphony filled the music hall with Broadway numbers, golden oldies and classics. They are an extraordinary group that is a must-see. Hats off to Cohen for producing this concert, locally, each year. It is an exceptional extravaganza, a delight to attend and a unique experience for a neighbourhood outing.
I’m already looking forward to next year’s return. It truly was the cat’s meow!

N

See: Video I shot at a previous MWSO concert

Inspirations magazine: O Noir, an eye-opening experience

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From Inspirations magazine, Fall 2018 | Click to enlarge

See the full edition of Inspirations

 

To see all my reviews click the link at the top of the page

Glenn J. Nashen reviews Restaurant Onoir: An eye opening dinner experience

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Also appears on MTLRestRap

Restauranteur Ian and server Sophie at Onoir (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

This was no ordinary evening out for dinner. I had heard of Onoir for several years and each time I came up with an excuse why I didn’t want to eat in the dark. This time was different and what an eye-opening experience it was.

 

You would never know by walking by on the pedestrian-only Prince Arthur Street that Onoir is really a lights-out place on the inside. Their comfortable and spacious terrasse could rival any fine venue along the Seine in Paris. Indeed, this is a people-watching area that they call Orues, so they’ve got you covered, errr uncovered, if you prefer to dine eyes wide open. And so we started our culinary experience on the cozy terrasse as I had a blonde beer brewed just down the block and my wife and daughter enjoyed sangria. A huge mural was just completed on their outside wall by famous graffiti artist Stikki Peaches depicting a young Salvador Dali.

Salvador Dali mural at Onoir (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

But what brothers Alejandro and Ian Martinez Ortiz and their mom Oralia have cooking inside is what really sets them apart from the rest. This family was born and raised in Mexico City but when asked why they came to make new lives in this city, Ian says, “Montreal chose us!” And so it goes for this culturally rich, philosophically astute and community minded entrepreneurial trio.

The terrasse, known as Orues, on Prince Arthur Street (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

Ian majored in Native Studies in Anthropology and non-Western History at Concordia University while brother Alejandro, a musician, studied the business side of of music and sound engineering.

 

The idea came to the family and Mohammed Alameddine on a trip to Switzerland; Create a dining experience truly apart from any other by tingling your senses and heightening your interaction with the food.  With this innovative concept they launched North America’s first restaurant, literally in the dark, 10 years ago, here in Montreal.

Award winning design at Onoir (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

Ian greeted Judy, Nicole and I in the well-lit and wood-cabin-decorated main room where you’ll find the bar and a few tables for drinks and appetizers. Here you peruse the menu and select from the generous offerings of appetizers, main dishes and desserts along with an exclusive wine, beer and aperitif list. You make your selection, en lumiere so to speak, but they throw you an interesting challenge in offering a “surprise” that you may choose for each of your courses. Let them decide upon what they serve you, and you figure it out, in the dark! “It accentuates the experience,” Ian tells us.

 

There’s a little of everything on the menu including vegan options. The main courses include mushroom pie, shrimp in butter, salmon fillet, duck breast, rabbit and the popular grilled beef shoulder. We all choose the surprise but Judy and Nicole are able to stipulate certain dietary restrictions.

Onoir (Courtesy Facebook)

Upstairs we go to one of the two blackened dining rooms where we are introduced to our server, Sophie. Like all the servers at Onoir, Sophie is legally blind (she has just 15% vision). With my hands on her shoulders, Judy’s on mine, and Nicole’s on hers, we form a ‘conga line’ and shuffle slowly and cautiously into the pitch black room. Sophie puts my hand to the back of my chair and I slide into my seat while my hands gingerly feel the tabletop and its contents: cutlery, napkin, oops, that’s my wife doing the same on her side. Wall to my right. Empty place setting to my left. Sound of dinner guests behind me. Two of them – man and woman. I’ve got my bearings.  I quickly tuck the cloth napkin into my shirt and an extra one over my lap, perhaps anticipating the inevitable clumsiness.

Onoir (Courtesy Facebook)

Along comes Sophie. She taps my left shoulder for me to reach for my water glass. A small sip. My first spill! My napkin prepping helped. Ian would later tell us that that 50-60 year olds tend to be the messiest in the dark, kids usually adapt the easiest. “How often do spills occur,” I ask Ian. “Every night!”, he chuckles in response.

 

They’ve thought of everything. Even padding the room with sound absorbing material to dampen the echo since patrons sense of sound is more acute in the dark.

 

Judy, Nicole and I discuss our new comfort zone, describe what we feel and how we’re going to manage our meal. We hear the door open and instantly smell and feel the wonderful aromas wafting past our noses. Our sense of smell has already reached a new high only minutes into the dark. Our eyes see nothing at all but our noses pick up the sweet scents of sesame oil and cumin. We’re already teeming with excitement about what lies ahead.

 

Sophie announces that she has placed our plates before us and we reach for the cutlery to attempt to eat a normal dinner. But there is nothing normal about this evening. We touch the edge of the plates to delineate the ‘playing field’. I scoop, Judy dabs, Nicole uses her fingers!

 

Judy and Nicole start comparing notes since their surprise appetizers are identical. But since there are several different elements on the plate they are not always tasting the same thing at the same time. The kitchen takes care to cut up the food into bite sized pieces unless it’s soft enough for the guest to cut with a fork. We never used the butter knives on our table.

 

I begin to savour my dish. The smell and the weight upon the fork are all factors registering before it hits my mouth. All of a sudden, it passes my lips and the taste instantly explodes.

 

“There’s a party in my mouth,” Judy says, going through the same sensations.

 

The texture of the food item upon the tongue helps us to decipher what we’re eating. How chewy or juicy, thick or dense, are elements we don’t usually think of. What a powerful and sudden experience from the first bite.

 

I really appreciated that there are many different textures on the plate from shaved turkey to potato salad and cauliflower sauce.

 

Judy and Nicole enjoyed chunky tuna tataki with crunchy sweet potato chips. The surprise element definitely added to the fun.

 

The main courses arrive. Again, fingers checking the circumference of the plates. What were we in for? No idea…

 

After we devour the main courses and even lick our fingers, I invite Sophie to sit with us for a few minutes to review what we thought we might have eaten. “I think mine was duck and I tasted asparagus,” I quiz Sophie. “But I don’t know what the rest was.”

 

Sophie tells me my surprise was an exquisite duck breast with a blueberry and old-style mustard sauce and garlic flakes. Each bite was something special. The crunchy sweet potato and parmesan, leek and asparagus fondue was incredible, along with the playful, snappy crunchy garlic chips.

Onoir (Courtesy Facebook)

The girls enjoyed a salmon with nice, crunchy skin, stewed cabbage and broiled parsnips. They are much better at guessing than me. Judy paired her meal with a glass of wine and did not spill a drop! “The flavours were vibrant and singing in my mouth,” Judy says.

 

Sophie tells us she has worked here for seven years. In fact, it was her first job since she turned 18 and she loves it every day. She helps us better understand our environment by describing the room, the number of tables, how she manoeuvres about, memorizing who ordered what and where everyone is seated.

 

What comment does she hear often?

 

“People are surprised. Sometimes they start off a bit stressed. Most don’t completely understand the challenges a visually impaired person, or totally blind person, lives with,” Sophie reveals. “People are generally scared in the dark. We have funny moments sometimes. It’s a good comment on society to come and learn and ask questions about how we work, how we function,” she says appreciatively.

 

Owner Ian comes to join us when our surprise desserts are served. The chefs have some fun with one dessert which has roasted quinoa as a garnish. Judy loves chocolate but announces that tasting the dark chocolate mousse with caramelized mangoes, crunchy puff pastry and mango coulis on her tongue, while in the dark, takes it to a new level. Nicole enjoys her quinoa with blueberry sauce while I savour every bit of my almond and raspberry soft cake with crème fouettée, honey and vanilla. I couldn’t imagine leaving any behind and swipe my fingers across the plate (and found some on the placemat).

 

Ian tells us, “The darkness is like an invisible canvas: we rediscover our senses. There are 30 people employed at Onoir. All of the servers are legally blind.The chefs are creative and playful and take care to have the meal tell a story. Kids always like this restaurant. They’re amazed in discovering the food. The adults are more afraid.”

 

They have repeat customers that come every one or two months. “The first impulse is to come because it’s something new. It’s kind of like entertainment but we’re pushing for it to become a culinary experience,” Ian says. “We have tourists from all around the world, foodies, locals…” The menu is changed each season.

 

“It’s like a funny social experiment over these 10 years”, Ian reminisces.

 

What funny stories?

 

There’s the one about the adult who didn’t like vegetables and shoveled them all onto her child’s dish. Or the diner who couldn’t understand why his wine glass was emptied so quickly only to find out his buddy kept drinking his wine. Ian tells about the group that got quite tipsy and left the restaurant and forgot about their friend. It was only later that night when he went in to clean up and flipped the lights on that he jumped in fright when he discovered the friend asleep at the table.

 

“We’ve had guests come here on blind dates,” Ian tells us. “He was already seated inside when she arrived, and she left before he did. I always wondered if they had a second date?”

 

“Our staff are absolutely amazing. What we find really nice is that it’s not just a job. It’s empowering our staff,” Ian says proudly. “Inside the room, we are the handicapped ones and they become our eyes. Once they start working here most of our waiters never go,” he says.

 

The blind community is relatively small and a lot of them know each other. After hours many will come and hang out here, the blind and sighted, all together. They come here to hang out more than to eat. They can have the Onoir experience in any restaurant but only here do they have a sense of community.

 

Sophie interrupts our discussion when she enters the room with our tea and coffee. Be very careful she says. We immediately smell the sweet aroma of our hot beverages. We carefully take the handle of the mug and place the hot cup on the table to plan to drink with care.

 

“We believe that each of us has a mission, a path before us in life. We were given the honour to explore and to learn what we have learned, together with them (the sight impaired). They have opened our eyes,” Ian emphasizes. “I follow the symbolic language of life. I see the signs that speak to us. We’re a spiritual family. This place was waiting for us. It is our calling to take care of this place and these people. We know why we’re here. The most valuable thing I’ve learned here is the people. We trust our intuition,” he says.

 

They have found a winning formula in Onoir. The experience was tremendous. We confronted our inhibitions. We challenged our senses. And we learned about the lives of caring and insightful people like Sophie and Ian, Alejandro and their mom. And, the food is delicious (although we’re still not sure about the presentation).

 

I guess they’re right: It’s better in the dark!

 

 

Onoir is open seven nights a week during the summer and closed Tuesdays in winter, from 5:45PM. The terrace is open all summer for dinner and drinks. They also welcome groups and corporate team-building for lunch or dinner. Prices range from $36 for two services or $42 for all three.

 

Onoir Montreal

124 Rue Prince Arthur E, Montreal, QC H2X 1B5

(514) 937-9727

info@onoir.com

https://www.facebook.com/OnoirRestaurantMontreal/

 

Onoir Toronto

620 Church Street, Toronto

info@onoirtoronto.com

416.922.NOIR (6647)

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