Dark Table is one of those experiences that you need to try to truly understand it. The servers are sight impaired, legally blind, and the dining room is in complete darkness. Up to 70% of people who are blind in Canada face unemployment and this restaurant not only employs the sight impaired, but gives the diner an understanding, if only momentarily, of their daily lives.
It has often been said that people eat with their eyes. The foods that are most appetising are often eaten first and people flock to a restaurant for their insta-famous food posts. Here, there won’t be any of that.
It’s a cold March winter night, approximately -12 c, in downtown Calgary. The restaurant has a warm welcoming entrance, evoking a feeling that this is going to be a different experience.
Upon arrival we are welcomed in the funky reception and bar area. Our reservation is for 8pm and we are a little early, but this is no problem. We are given a key to a locker where our bags and coats are stored and are then offered the menu to make our selections for the main meal. Soon after we’re introduced to our server, Diane, and she guides us conga line style, to our table.
Yes, this is seriously how dark it is. Pitch black. Nothing to see. My other senses take over, the auditory at first although there is a sense of not being aware how close people are to you. Conversations are happening but I’m not really sure what people are talking about or even where they are sitting. I feel to my right and there is a table beside me. I feel the table gently, unaware whether someone is there, worried my hand could knock over their drink or land in their meal! I whisper “Hello? Is someone beside me?” Nothing. It feels like someone, a couple, or a group are there. I am sure, so I say it again “Hello, is someone beside me?” and then there is a knock on the table!
Our starter is served, it’s chefs choice. We can’t feel our knives and forks so we dig in with our hands. I can taste vegetables, its fresh and crunchy…maybe a salad? Neither of us are completely confident.
The mains come. I know I have ordered the fish, but I wish I had have paid more attention to what it came with. I can taste the fish, it’s cooked well, and I can tell there is a rice accompaniment, but I am really unsure of the accompaniments. There are crunchy bits and a crispy yet spongy piece of… well something. Dessert is served and it’s kind of gooey, chocolatey. To be honest, at this stage I am starting to find this really difficult, relying on all my senses other than sight to know what I am eating and whats going on around me…I wish I’d paid more attention to the menu.
Ok, so I wont keep you in the dark (pardon the really bad pun there). I had spoken with one of the managers and given them my camera and politely asked if some pictures of the dishes may be taken in the kitchen before serving us. I can tell you we were really surprised when we saw the pictures!
The starter was a salad, but strangely it was still so weird seeing what it actually was. Now seeing it, I feel a bit silly not knowing what it was when eating it.
The fish was atop some ratatouille, with a side of saffron rice. So the spongy piece turned out to be a piece of toasted bread. And that crunchiness on the fish… walnuts… Again, I couldn’t have picked all the flavours individually.
Desert was kind of what we expected, a chocolate and custard cake/brownie like dish. It was nice, but all I can say I would hate to see what the tablecloth looked like after I ate this with my hands.
Many people have asked me what happens when you need to go to the toilet (or washroom in Canada), well you just call your server and they will assist you… to the washrooms where there is lighting and privacy!
This was a really fun and eye-opening experience (sorry another bad pun). We never did find out who was knocking at the table next to us though…The food was good and if you get the chance try it out at one of their restaurants in Vancouver or Calgary.
Meals were paid for independently.