All SIGNS point to meh

I was three years old when I had my first shower. Before then, I took baths, so no, I’m not a heathen. I stepped out to face my dad, who was wielding a dual-edged cotton ball stick of doom—the Q-Tip.

He jammed the Q-Tip into my ear, causing the referee in my head to blow his whistle to signal a knockout: Q-Tip – 1, Eardrum – 0. The hearing in my left ear was gone.

My flesh and blood accidentally popped my eardrum as aggressively as the last remaining balloon at a spoiled kid’s birthday party when he didn’t get the right set of Pokémon cards. My equilibrium was completely thrown off, causing everyone to sound like Charlie Brown’s parents. To be fair, my mom scolded me a lot as a kid, so to say it didn’t have its perks would be a lie. The muffling subsided after a few months, but the siren song of my mom’s nagging remained.

Today, the only thing popping was my deaf-inspired restaurant cherry at SIGNS. I thought that perhaps I would relive that difficult period of my life.

The hostess greeted and escorted me to the bar and asked my level of understanding of ASL (American Sign Language). I said I knew some, but none I’d use outside the context of someone cutting me off in rush hour. I quickly learned that rolling of the eyes is the sign for a bad joke.

She gave me a drink menu that diagrammed beverage signs and a Rolodex of common phrases I could use to interact with the bartender, except for one thing—his name. I wanted to introduce myself and ask for his, but the Rolodex lacked any conversational sequence. I manically flipped through its pages like a horny teenager skipping the articles in a Playboy mag to make an honest attempt at signing before it turned into a game of charades. The final nail in the coffin was the buzzing sound of the receipt machine printing out a blank receipt that he exasperatingly used to write his name.

I attempted to order a Stella by waving my right arm as shown in the drink menu. He verified by pumping his arm to resemble tooting a steam whistle. I conceded by pointing to the picture, and he corrected me by squiggling his arm, almost flirtatiously, into an ‘S.’ I tried it and was met with his seal of approval, an A-OK sign. #winning Then the conversation ended of my own volition in fear that my Macarena-esque gestures would appear offensive or get mistaken for gang signs.

I was annoyed by the bartender’s constant check-ins until I realized my blatant lack of self-awareness. I was thinking outloud. Probably not the best idea when surrounded by a staff that relies heavily on lip-reading.

My girlfriend arrived, and we were seated in the dining area. It’s overly ambitious in size, considering we were the only two customers amongst the 150-seat capacity. Black-and-white pictures of people signing alcoholic drinks (margaritas, martinis, etc.), gleaming hardwood floors, and the vibrant black and lime-green colour scheme give the restaurant a modern vibe. The ambiance made us feel comfortable though we could’ve benefited from warmer lighting.

What’s bizarre is that there’s background music. It doesn’t completely undermine their tagline, “Where noise meets silence,” because they played 2008’s Top 40 playlist, which forces you to block out its noise and encourages you to envy the hearing-impaired.  SIGNS sorely needs the noise cancelling headphones Family Feud contestants wear when they’re backstage waiting for their chance to play fast-money. It would give customers the option to sign exclusively since it’s hard to enjoy a meal when “My Humps” is playing.

Speaking of black eyed peas, let me get to the food. We scrambled to order as the lack of customers caused the kitchen to close early. I suppose it’s our fault for assuming we could dine at the wee hour of 9 p.m. We ended up ordering the following:

Butternut Squash Ravioli, $19: Exquisitely presented with enoki and shiitake mushrooms, though they should have stuck with one type. It was refreshing to see it on the menu since it’s an excellent meal for the season. The ravioli was a fantastic blend of doughy and filling, which is a revelation as I’ve eaten ravioli dough so thick it was like chewing a pillow. The dairy-on-dairy combination of shredded mozzarella cheese on cream sauce made it too rich, but it’s a mild cheese, so it didn’t overpower the sauce’s flavour. I was disappointed that it didn’t come with a side like the sandwiches do, as it would’ve balanced out the meal. A small salad with cranberries would’ve been perfect instead of the hard bread making the meal feel too carb-heavy.

Miso Salmon, $26: The large cut of grilled salmon was tender, juicy, flaky, and cooked to perfection; however, it sat on a bed of rice so bland and mushy you could slurp it through a straw. The great taste of the salmon can’t compensate for the baby food they pass as risotto.

My girlfriend decided that since all the servers were deaf, it wouldn’t make a scene if we argued. I reminded her that the likelihood of them reading our lips was high, so she began to move her mouth like a poorly-dubbed Jackie Chan movie when she spoke. Luckily, I quickly found the page on the Rolodex for the sign for “separate checks.”

SIGNS advertises itself as an immersive experience, like the way O.Noir does with blind people. The difference is that at O.Noir, you don’t see anything, but at SIGNS, you hear everything. The immersion only comes into play when you’re interacting with the staff. It’s worth noting they are extremely friendly and understanding. But SIGNS lacks staying power and appears to use their disability as a gimmick to justify high prices in a medium-end area. It’s great that they promote creating numerous job opportunities for the Deaf community, but judging by the number of customers, it can’t be many.

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