SIGNS restaurant, located near Yonge and Wellesley Street in Toronto, is a unique and interesting dining experience that is meant to thrust the patron outside of their comfort zone by presenting them with a foreign environment. Manned by a deaf serving team, the aptly named SIGNS provides a distinctive opportunity for guests to learn American Sign Language (ASL) as a communication tool, via the menu and ‘cheat book’, to order meals and interact with the hearing impaired staff.
The majority of our party was admittedly apprehensive about the experience, given that none of us was familiar with ASL. However, the entire staff was friendly, helpful and went above and beyond to make us feel comfortable. Our server deserves much of the credit for making our night a special one. Her outgoing attitude and willingness to teach us really made a difference. She readily joked and laughed with us and took the time to ensure that we were having a great time. It really emphasized for us as to how easy it is to communicate with others despite any existing social, racial and cultural barriers.
Founder Anjan Manikumar was on hand to visit our table and discuss his vision and the concept of the restaurant, and was very open to suggestions and feedback, even discussing the various ways of teaching sign language that they had employed to date, such as using tablets. He also mentioned that Signs is one of only a few places that employs the hearing impaired full time.
As for the food, dinner appetizers include choices of Caesar salad, Panko crusted ravioli, escargots, vegetable spring rolls and carrot soup, while entrees are primarily meat dishes with a choice of chicken breast, veal chop, or a New York steak, and two fish options including blackened Mahi Mahi and Saku tuna. We purposely opted for different dishes and found that the chicken breast was moist and tender and the chop was a melt-in-your-mouth experience.
Dinners range between $21 – $29 (Canadian). There is also a varied list of pasta dishes priced slightly less. The gourmet desserts are particularly tasty with a choice of New York Cheesecake, chocolate raspberry mouse, triple chocolate mousse, chocolate caramel cake and mango sorbet, all of which are priced similarly between $7-$9 (Canadian).
Food presentation is paramount at Signs with meals perfectly plated and garnished. Similarly, desserts are like artwork, topped with berries and drizzled with sweet chocolate or tangy raspberry sauces. Certainly, everything is visually appealing and flavorsome.
Overall, our party felt that Signs was really about the dining ‘experience’, learning an entirely new language and enjoying a new dining ritual. If you’re actually studying sign language, this establishment is even more appealing as it offers an opportunity to practice (and perhaps even learn something new). For people with hearing impairments, it’s a great opportunity to be in an environment that embraces that communication style.
The space itself is welcoming – modern, clean and visually appealing with décor that includes posters of various American Sign Language.
Overall, Signs provided for a great night out and our reviewers walked away feeling like we had learned something. We definitely recommend SIGNS if you’re looking for a Toronto dining experience that’s fun and unique.
By Kat Harlton
Photos by Samantha Wu