Edmonton Restaurant Review: Japonais Bistro Omakase Thursday Dinner

Seared Scallops

Around the beginning of December, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when I came across a post from Japonais Bistro. It was advertising their new Omakase (a Japanese phrase that means “I’ll leave it up to you.”) Thursday Dinner for twenty per cent off with a code to be requested either by direct message or email.

I immediately jumped on the opportunity and, within the day, I had gotten a reply. They provided a code and a copy of the set menus for me to review. There are two options for the dinner. The first is an $80 six-course meal. The second is a $100 seven-course supper that includes an extra Amaebi (sweet shrimp) Sunomono salad and a different steak dish.

I made arrangements with my friend for a double date night in January. Between the choices, the less expensive made the most sense for us. It seemed like more than enough food and, after the discount, it would only be $64 per person, which is reasonable for the number of courses.

Japonais Bistro indicated that there would only be limited omakase spots available every Thursday, so it was recommended to book in advance. I arranged for our evening about six weeks ahead. While that kind of time frame may not be necessary, we were planning around my friend’s birthday. Still, call to reserve because even though they said Thursday is a weekday and it’s slower, the place — located at 11806 Jasper Avenue — was packed when we arrived at 7:45pm. Plus, they will need at least 48 hours notice, if you plan to dine with them for omakase.

Additionally, although the menu is preset and mentions that there are no substitutions, I was told that we could let them know of food allergies upon booking. My friend cannot eat shellfish or avocado, so I made them aware. When we had settled in, the staff already knew about the note and the kitchen arranged to have her scallop course replaced with cod. They were very thorough in ensuring that she would be okay.

Kamo Duck Salad

Beverages were an extra cost. Kirk and I opted to stick to water, but the others grabbed some beers to pair with their meals. Dinner started off with a Kamo Duck Salad. Rather than persimmon and plum, the former was replaced with blackberries. The sweetness of the fruit perfectly balanced with the savoury slices of duck. Atop all of the meat and fruit was a large helping of shungiku greens — these are the stems/leaves of the crown daisy — with mustard and miso-dashi dressing. Sort of prickly and crunchy in texture, the slight bitter taste was reduced by the umami flavour of the accompanying sauce. A very nice and light introduction to our culinary journey.

We received the Seared Scallops next. They were, admittedly, smaller than I expected. Nevertheless, the trio of mollusks were perfectly cooked and wonderfully seared. The meat was tender and could be cut apart with just a fork. These were laid upon a painterly streak of celeriac puree decorated with basil pesto, quinoa and micro greens. Around the rest of the plate were dustings of powdered sesame (excellent when eaten with the scallops). Unique in presentation and taste, it was probably one of my favourite items all night. Thankfully, we were given spoons with this dish so we could scoop up every morsel. My friend’s cod was pretty much served in the same way, just with a cut of cod instead of the scallops. It looked just as appetizing, although I’m glad I didn’t have to carefully pick out fish bones myself.

Chef Choice Fresh Fish Sushi

Following that, we were presented with the first of two sushi plates. This was the Chef Choice Fresh Fish. It came with five pieces, including eel, snapper, yellowtail, bluefin, and amberjack. The eel was quite good in terms of taste and texture. It did have some bones though, so I pricked my lip when bringing the piece to my mouth. I managed to pull out any larger bones and then just ate the rest in a single mouthful. I can usually take or leave snapper as I find it to be too chewy. This one wasn’t bad, but it’s still not something I’d order on my own. The same can be said of this particular amberjack. The yellowtail was a bit smoother and easier to eat. The best, hands down, was the beautiful jewel toned bluefin. I could have devoured a whole plate of that. Each piece of sushi did have a dollop of wasabi placed between the fish and the rice already. It’s the traditional way of serving sushi and I found it manageable, but that may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Bavette Steak

I suppose the Bavette Steak can be considered the entrée. This was a six ounce cut of sous vide flank steak rested on potato puree and surrounded by a pool of teriyaki demi-glace with dots of black garlic sauce. Even though we were offered utensils, we all insisted we could get away with eating everything using just our chopsticks. In the end, I managed to do it. However, I looked like a child playing with my food as I used the slices of steak to scoop up the creamy potatoes and sauce. Although there was a bit of tendon running through my meat (making it a little harder to bite off pieces at times), the steak was, overall, succulent and I loved how the exterior was crusted and seared. It held in all of the flavour despite being served to us already cut apart.

The Chef Choice Aburi Sushi was definitely where it was at. Give me all of it! Honestly, I was busier taking photos as soon they dropped my plate in front of me and I didn’t listen to what each fish was. However, a few pieces looked to be some sort of torched salmon. Two of them were the Osaka-style pressed sushi. One had a slice of jalapeno and the other had a miso dressing. The three pieces on the other half of the dish were presented more normally, yet with a twist. One was simply seared (unknown fish), the salmon sandwiched in the middle came with silvers of daikon, and the fish in the center of the plate was citrusy with the use of grated yuzu. All of them were excellent examples of the technique utilized by sushi chefs. It doesn’t take a lot to alter what is familiar, but it needs to be done the right way. At Japonais Bistro they know what they’re doing.

Roasted Rice Panna Cotta (Green Tea?)

Completing our meal was the Green Tea and Roasted Rice Panna Cotta. Not totally sure, but they may have changed the flavour of the panna cotta because it wasn’t green and it didn’t have that distinct full-bodied bittersweet taste. I found the amaretto syrup to be quite strong, but it was quickly eaten in the initial bites and after that, I didn’t have enough for the rest. The consistency was also more firm than I prefer and reminded me of a dense tofu. It was alright, but it certainly didn’t live up to their Matcha Crème Brûlée dessert as, quite frankly, nothing else there ever will.

If this post has convinced you to check out Omakase Thursday Dinner at Japonais Bistro, please note that it is required to have a minimum of two orders for the kitchen to even serve this. It won’t be available to a single diner, so definitely gather up a family member, friend or co-worker to go. They’ll be running this menu until the end of February, so there are six more chances to take advantage of this promo. Don’t forget to reach out to them by email or direct message on Instagram for your discount code. For the service as well as the price, amount, and quality of the food, it’s certainly worth it.

Calgary Restaurant Review: Elbow Room Brittania

Happy Hour at Elbow Room Britannia

To celebrate my birthday this year, Kirk and I decided to take a page out of another local blogger’s book. Linda Hoang (a.k.a. Lindork) had gone on a road trip adventure to southern Alberta courtesy of Tourism Calgary. We followed suit, reserving a 2-night shopping package at Hotel Arts. For each evening we stayed, we received a voucher to be redeemed towards a $75 gift card at our choice of three malls — CrossIron Mills, CF Chinook Centre, or The CORE — meaning, for our mini holiday, we received $150 to spend (this deal is still on until February 28, 2019).

That turned out to be a really nice perk, and it was our major plan for our time in Calgary. We ended up going through the majority of our money within the first several hours of our extended weekend. Therefore, shopping was put on the back burner quite quickly . The rest of our time was broken out into memorable meals, including our initial stop at Elbow Room Brittania (802 49 Avenue SW).

There are so many fantastic restaurants in Calgary, but I really wanted to be able to keep within a decent budget. To help save or, at the very least, get the best bang for our buck, I made several reservations based on eateries that offered happy hour options. Elbow Room was one of those (2pm to 5pm, Tuesday to Friday; drinks and food starting at $5 each).

Elbow Room Britannia happy hour menu.

Located in Britannia Plaza, there are two stories available to patrons. The open kitchen seems to be situated on the lower-level, and the bar is upstairs. The mint green walls give the space a modern-vintage feel, and the big windows allow light to flow in. Kirk and I arrived mid-afternoon for a late lunch, and took full advantage of the discounted items by ordering Fries ($5), Brussels Sprouts ($6), Arancini ($8), Carpaccio ($8), Humboldt Squid ($8), Burrata Rossa Pizza ($12), and Tiger Prawns ($15). Had we been there outside of happy hour, we would have paid about $120 before tax and tip for the same items. The portion sizes seemed to be standard, not shrunken in order to alleviate the costs on their part, and, in total, it was about half the price for us.

Humboldt Squid

I’ll begin with the dish that was somewhat of a letdown. The Humboldt Squid was made from what came across as processed strips of the cephalopods. The lightly tempura battered pieces were pleasantly crisp, but the spongy texture of the squid wasn’t ideal. Although I do like other types of pickled vegetables, I have an aversion to typical cucumber-style pickles in the vein of dill or bread and butter flavours. The squid was covered in slices of pickle, which saturated the outer shell pretty quickly. Otherwise, the sweet and sour harissa (a Moroccan ketchup/chili paste) provided a different take on a cocktail sauce, and the lemon dill yogurt provided a cooling balance.

The perfectly prepared Fries were plentiful. Crunchy with a soft middle, these were elevated with three different dips: ketchup, gochujang mayo, and truffle mayo. I tried not to fill up too much on the cuts of potato, but it was hard not to snack on them when they were sitting in front of me the entire time.

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts have fast become one of my top veggies. I love how the tightly packed heads can be flavoured with a variety of seasoning, cheeses, sauces, or oils. The outer leaves char up when fried, and they soften slightly while still retaining bite. The serrano pepper crema and sharp cheddar were excellent accompaniments, but what I think took these a notch further was the use of lemon, giving it a zest and acidity that I’d never seen utilized in Brussels sprouts in the past.

Burrata Rosa Pizza

As far as pizzas go, the Burrata Rossa was quite delicious. We were already nearing full by the time it was presented. Somehow, we still managed to eat half of it. The Neapolitan dough was thin and crisp, allowing for that helpful fold upon devouring. The San Marzano tomato sauce tasted light and fresh, and there was a decent amount of prosciutto. The only thing Kirk and I both thought was a little out of place were the ribbons of basil. In small quantities, the hints of mint and licorice can work. Here, there was just too much of the herb, which overpowered the rest of the ingredients. On the plus side, the huge dollop of burrata cheese in the middle added a sense of decadence with its warm and melty goodness.

The Arancini were orbs of delight. The rice had a wonderfully creamy consistency while still maintaining the grain’s texture. There was a bit of stringy cheese inside, too. The outside was crisp, and the red Thai coconut curry cream was divine. Just the right amount of heat on the palate.

Considering that the Carpaccio is made with Brant Lake Wagyu beef, I was surprised to learn that this plate only costs $13.50 regularly. To get it for $8 during happy hour is a complete steal. I lost count eventually, but I think there were probably about 15 or more slices of beef on the plate. Topped with shallot, arugula, Grana Padano, and mosto cotto (a sweet sauce that I thought was aged balsamic vinegar), I was in heaven. The side of truffled yuzu aioli solidified the umami flavours.

Tiger Prawns

Our top choice during our entire meal was clearly the Tiger Prawns. These were the bomb. The square of crisp sushi rice laid the foundation. Atop that was a beautifully butterflied prawn with a fried, but not greasy, coating. Sesame, scallions, anise soy reduction, and gochujang ebi mayo emphasized the Asian inspired plate. I could have eaten a dozen of those, if I hadn’t stuffed myself with everything else.

What a way to start our food adventures in Calgary. Elbow Room Britannia was definitely a choice that I did not regret. I’d go back in a heartbeat. Not only were the dishes superb, the service was great, too. Hopefully, it’ll be there for a long time to come, as it’ll be a regular haunt for me on future trips to Calgary.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse

Unlimited meats, salad bar and brunch items!

Step aside Pampa, there’s a new steakhouse in town! In all honestly, I’ve never actually tried Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse myself. I’ve always been weary of the prices ($51.99 per person for dinner and $33.99 for brunch), unsure if it’d be worth the money considering I can’t really eat all that much meat in one sitting. But, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed earlier this summer and I noticed quite a few posts about a similar restaurant called Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse.

The spacious interior of Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse.

This new business is located on the ground floor of the Water’s Edge building at 10143 Saskatchewan Drive. On a nice summer day, it’d be quite enjoyable to sit out on the patio with views of the bridges and the city skyline. During our visit though, it was starting to turn chilly and the winds were high, so indoors we went. It’d been years since I’d set foot into that space (it previously housed New Asian Village). From what I can recall, it used to be a lot more cramped. Now, it’s very open and spacious with a more modern design that utilizes bold colours on the walls and art.

Green = More / Red = Pause

We did have an OpenTable reservation. However, I will note that it wasn’t particularly busy when we arrived. They offer brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00am to 2:00pm. Timing it so that we could eat before a Fringe Festival show, we decided to dine at 1:00pm. Perhaps showing up later meant it had already quieted down. Therefore, we were quickly seated and given instructions on how the meal works — the buffet is available at any time, but the meats are brought out from the kitchen throughout; if you want the churrasco (Brazilian barbecue), flip the circular card to green and if you need a break, flip it to red.

Brunch at Fumaca is $25.99 and includes French toast, pancakes, scrambled eggs and hash browns as well as a salad bar and an unlimited amount of seven select cuts of meat (at dinner there are 15 varieties, hence the increased cost of $44.99). We started our meal by perusing the buffet. I stacked my plate with the aforementioned French toast and pancakes, dressing those with a berry compote. I also scooped up some hash browns and mashed potatoes on the side. From their salad bar, I chose some red beets, marinated mushrooms, a curry pasta, and the pièce de résistance, full bulbs of roasted garlic.

My initial plate of pancakes, French toast, hash browns, mashed potatoes and veggies.

The latter of my collection from the salad bar was perfect to accompany most bites of meat that I sampled. I mean, garlic works with everything. As for the rest of my choices, they were all tasty and well-seasoned. Nothing was overly salty or inedible. Although, I did feel like the salad bar was a tad scant. There were plenty of dressings and oils laid out to go with bowls of mixed greens and some additional veggies, fruits and toppings, but not much else. If someone opted to pay just for the brunch salad bar on its own ($19.99), I’m not sure that it’d be all that filling.

I was pleasantly surprised by the pancakes and the French toast though. It’s very easy for those to be ill prepared as part of a buffet. When items like those are left out for too long, they can either become hard or soggy. These stood the test with the pancakes remaining rather fluffy and the French toast holding a crispness on the outside.

Then came the meat. Our introduction to their rodizio was through their signature Beef Rumpsteak. Carved right at the table, it was that perfect medium rare pink. The meat was juicy and not overpowered by seasoning. Simply dressed with only a little bit of sea salt, the steak itself was left to be the star of the show. The second was a Beef Garlic Steak; a smaller cut of meat that was succulent and had an extra hint of flavour. The third beef steak we ate was the Top Sirloin. It was a tougher cut since it was leaner than the other two. Flavourful, but, comparatively, the chewier texture wasn’t ideal. Admittedly, we thought the staff were kind of skimping with the slices, but once you’ve eaten several kinds of meat, it’s eventually more than enough.

The Chicken Drumsticks were nicely charred to get that grilled taste. They were also plump. I could have done without those though. I’d much rather something outside the norm of what I might make at home. That’s where the Leg of Lamb comes in. Not too gamey at all and super tender, this was a total treat to be able to have lamb included as part of a limitless brunch.

Crispy Pork Belly with what remained of my Pork Sausage.

When I first told Kirk that there wouldn’t be any regular sausage or bacon, he seemed quite disappointed. Then I mentioned that they serve barbecued Pork Sausage and Crispy Pork Belly instead and his spirits brightened. After all, those are just elevated versions of the usual brunch fare. Initially, we couldn’t put our finger on the herb used in the sausage, and we ended up asking one of the servers. To our amazement, it was cilantro. That is pretty much my taste bud nemesis. Yet, somehow, they managed to make cilantro edible for me. I’m not sure what black magic they’re using in the kitchen, but it worked and the sausage ended up being one of my top picks.

Still, my absolute favourite was the crispy pork belly. These were thick cut portions of pork belly that were seared beautifully on the edges. I did have to remove a little excess fat that had not rendered away during the cooking process, but the acidity from the spritz of lime helped to cut through that as well. The second portion of pork belly was even better. It seriously made the meal.

Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse seems to have a solid foundation in the kitchen. They’re the only other business of this kind in Edmonton giving the long reigning Pampa a run for its money. The service we received was great, too. I just hope that they get some more people through their doors, and perhaps they can expand their salad bar a bit. Nevertheless, for any meat lover with a hefty appetite, this should be one of their go to places to fuel up on the weekend.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Riverbank Bistro (St. Albert)

Dessert in the form of Key Lime Pie!

After a day out at the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival in August, Kirk and I decided to treat ourselves to dinner out. Instead of sticking around the busy area of Old Strathcona, we made the trek over to Riverbank Bistro in St. Albert. I’d read recent praise about the restaurant, which opened up inside the Victorian-Style house situated on Mission Avenue last fall, and I wanted to try it.

We showed up for our OpenTable reservation early (at about a quarter to 5:00pm), so I snapped some photos of the building and the interior of the house before we went inside. Interesting to note is that Riverbank Bistro also has a lounge serving a very different bites menu; however, it’s completely cutoff from the restaurant. The lounge actually has a different door on the right hand side of the foyer, accessible when you enter the building. The door to the left takes you into the main dining room.

The dining room is through a door on the left.

Upon our arrival we were greeted immediately. Although we could have requested to sit outside on the patio that overlooks the Sturgeon River, we ended up seated at a table for two inside. Personally, I believe we made the right choice seeing as how a couple that had originally opted to dine outside ended up shifting indoors. It sounded like the bugs were invading.

Prior to our visit, I had perused the Riverbank Bistro menu online. The list of classic items had an elevated air to them, and I was excited to sink my teeth into their offerings. What I didn’t realize was that on Sundays, the only menu they have available is their Sunday Feature Menu. It’s a two-course dinner that includes a starter and an entrée for $28.95 per person. While I’m all for the price, I was a tad disappointed that it was our only option. The menu provides four appetizers and three mains to choose from. My singular hope was that the chef had selected the best from their menu to showcase every Sunday.

If anything, the lack of choice made our decisions that much faster. Kirk decided on the Caesar Salad (normally $14) and the Roast AAA Alberta Beef Prime Rib (not on the usual menu). I ordered the R.B.B. Soup Creation (regularly $8) and the Pan Seared Salmon Fillet ($27 on its own). I also began my meal with a Mission Ave Mule ($13).

Caesar Salad

For the Caesar Salad, the kitchen refrained from chopping the romaine hearts. Instead, they cut them lengthwise, laying them open and then piling on the dressing, focaccia croutons, shaved Asiago, crispy capers, and grape tomatoes. To finish things off, it was topped with a grilled lemon slice. The juices from that created a charred acidity. I appreciated that the appropriate amount of dressing was used. More often than not, salads either have too much or too little dressing. In the case of Riverbank Bistro it was just right for me. Plus, the ample cheese helped. What kind of gave the Caesar salad a twist was the addition of those grape tomatoes, bringing a pop of tang and sweet here and there.

Roast AAA Alberta Beef Prime Rib

The Roast AAA Alberta Beef Prime Rib was decent. The meat looked to be cooked to a proper medium or medium rare. Yet, I found it to be a bit dry in spots. The rosemary jus was flavourful though, and the smashed potatoes were buttery. I kind of wish there had been more potato. Although, I suppose with a side of Yorkshire pudding, there was already enough starch to go around. Speaking of the Yorkshire pudding, Kirk called it his dessert. Most days he prefers salt to sugar, and I have to agree that Riverbank Bistro’s version is good. It had a crisp outer shell and a fluffy interior with a slight chew, ideal for soaking up leftover gravy. The roasted carrots and turnips were prepared nicely as well.

R.B.B. Soup Creation

The R.B.B. Soup Creation changes all the time, but boy did I luck out that weekend! The chef had made a creamy potato Asiago soup with caramelized onion and bacon. In my opinion, when it comes to soups, I can take or leave a broth. I’m all about an amazing cream soup, and this one was luxurious, to say the least. It was surprisingly smooth. Whatever they did to puree the potatoes, they were undetectable in terms of texture. It was warm, thick and creamy all the way down to the last drop. The flavours of the cheese, onions and bacon melded together perfectly. I’d go back to Riverbank Bistro simply for this.

Pan Seared Salmon Fillet

My main of Pan Seared Salmon Fillet was passable. I will give them props for the fish itself. The cut was large and it was pan seared so that none of the moisture was lost. The fish was succulent and flaky without falling apart too easily. I’m not entirely certain as to how it was seasoned. If I had to guess, I think it was simple salt and pepper with some maple syrup as it looked lightly caramelized on the top. What I wasn’t a huge fan of was the base of the dish, which consisted of an herbed spaetzle along with a bacon and corn succotash. I found the dill heavy handed and the overall taste saltier than I would like. While bites of the noodles seemed to help tone down the brininess, it was still a lot for my palate to take.

Mission Ave Mule

What really assisted with washing away the salt was my Mission Ave Mule. It’s a typical mule cocktail mix with vodka, lime, and ginger. Riverbank Bistro took it up a notch by adding in blueberry. I could clearly taste the fruit in the beverage with every sip, but they also decorate the top of the drink with frozen blueberries as an extra touch. My only wish is that for $13 it came in a bigger cup. I really had to savour that drink slowly.

Key Lime Pie

To cap off our dinner, we decided to share the Key Lime Pie ($10) for dessert. This was plated beautifully on a large white backdrop with colourful dollops of puree and pieces of fruit. It was creative and playful. The pie was delicious with a filling that leaned towards creamy instead of spongy. It was smooth and had a pleasant zestiness. The crust was also different from a basic pie since they incorporated coconut into it giving it a toasty flavour that married well with the key lime.

Despite the initial revelation that their regular menu was not available on Sunday, it turned out to be a pretty good meal. It gave the two of us an idea of the potential that lies in Riverbank Bistro. With the mains, maybe they just had more of an off night since I do believe that improvements are needed. But, wow, did they do a great job with things like their appetizers and dessert. I also think that the service was excellent (aside from one forgetful moment where we were brought our bill prior to our dessert coming out). We’re definitely willing to give Riverbank Bistro another shot as long as we visit on a Tuesday to Saturday instead.

Edmonton Business Review: Escape City

Friends and escape rooms = fun!

I’ve been hooked on escape rooms ever since they were initially introduced to Edmonton back around 2014. I lapped them up and I would go on gaming sprees, usually dragging along a newbie or two. When we left, they were addicted as well. For those who don’t yet know, an escape room is an immersive experience whereby a group is “locked” in a themed room and they have to work together to solve riddles, clues and puzzles in order to breakout. They typically range between 45 to 60 minutes in length and cost about $25 per person to play.

About a year after I delved into that world, more businesses in this vein finally started to pop up, including one of my all time faves, Escape City. Located on 59 Avenue and 104 Street (Calgary Trail), it’s tucked away in the corner of an old strip mall. Walking through the doors, there has always been someone sitting behind the counter to greet patrons. Otherwise, it’s a very minimalist space with white walls, a couple of long benches, and cabinets for lockers. A large bulletin board next to the till showcases the teams who have broken out of their rooms in record time (Note: the times listed are remaining minutes in the game, not total minutes played). On the opposite side of the room is an accent wall with “Escape City” scrawled in red, which is great for photo ops.

It’s ideal to arrive 15 minutes in advance of your allotted time to ensure everyone has a chance to pay and sign the waivers (if you’ve played here before, they do keep them on file, so you don’t have to sign it again). As with any other escape room place, you are not to bring in any of your belongings. Phones, especially, should be locked away as it’s all too easy to cheat or make the game easier with them on hand. Plus, it’s important that photos aren’t shared of the room and its puzzles because the whole point of playing is to be challenged. Where’s the fun in knowing in advance what’s going to happen?

When the team is ready to go, a staff member will lead the way. They’ll present the house rules: no lifting carpets, no pulling on things that are nailed down, no climbing, etc. Then, a video introduction is played before the countdown starts and the game begins.

As an early subscriber to Escape City’s newsletter, I was invited to beta test for them. The very first room I got to experience was Keller’s Magic Emporium. At the time, I didn’t realize it was rated as their easiest room. Admittedly, I found it to be too quick to work through as we got out with probably 20 minutes to spare on an available 45 minutes (sometimes I don’t care about breaking a record; I just want to be entertained for as long as possible while still breaking out). What I did like was that they found a way to personalize the game a bit. Everything was quite linear, and the design was superb. They utilized some locks in the room, but there were a lot of other styles of puzzles, too. This one is best for beginners.

A taste of The Cabin. Photo courtesy of Escape City.

My second go at one of their rooms was with The Cabin. This was a well-though-out game and our group was literally a minute away from solving the whole thing. Alas, we failed, but it was very close. While it is considered to be one of the more difficult challenges at Escape City, I believe our ultimate downfall with this particular room was the size of the space and the number of players. Most of the time I struggle to get more than four or five people to come out. In this case, I recall having seven or eight in all. With limbs everywhere, visuals were blocked, hindering our ability to fully grasp everything we were supposed to see. My recommendation with the majority of places I’ve been is to have no more than six people.

Room number three at Escape City was The Inheritance. I’d only just started dating Kirk at the time. He was so enamoured with The Cabin that, on a whim as we were passing by one night, he decided we should zip into the front doors an hour before closing to ask if we could play an impromptu game. The staff was happy to oblige. I feel like we used a lot of hints (you can have up to two, if you want your time to count towards their rankings; otherwise, you can have as many as needed). But, what do you expect when you only have two brains trying to decipher stuff like this at 10 o’clock in the evening? We managed though. There were a couple of puzzles that we solved without doing it the way the room was planned (it happens on occasion). We also wouldn’t have gotten out within the actual 45 minutes. Thankfully, the employees working that night were nice enough to give us extra time. It’s been designated with a three out of five star difficulty rating and I think that’s a fair assessment.

Adventure four was The Great Discovery. It’s no longer running, but this one had a lab storyline and made sure to encourage the use of multiple senses in order to solve the puzzles. Our team worked well together as each person brought something to the table, and we felt really accomplished when we escaped this room.

The Hunt for Arms Magee (previously known as Quarterback Sneak) was the fifth room played at Escape City. It’s also classified as middle of the road in terms of the overall challenge. I have to say though, this was most likely my least favourite out of the handful of games we’d played here at this point. I didn’t think the quality of the room itself or the production value was as high as the others. Mainly in the first half (the second portion had a fun element), the premise felt silly and oversimplified in comparison. This room was a joint effort between Escape City and Explore Edmonton. It was originally meant to tie into the Grey Cup and pitted the idea of the Edmonton Eskimos against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. I thought they just tried way too hard to tie in Edmonton elements. They’re best left to making rooms where the imaginations of the designers aren’t hindered by the tourism board’s vision.

We excelled at Neurological! Also, this is apparently my lucky shirt.

Approximately ten months later, I finally found an excuse to go back. This time, we were celebrating Escape City’s third birthday (August 2018). It’s crazy to think that they’ve graced us with their presence for this long and even weirder to realize I hadn’t played any escape rooms in over half a year. We tried our hand at Neurological, one of their hardest. I’ve been told by many people who tackled it before me to go with a large group (eight to ten). In the end, I managed to wrangle together a total of five people. Needless to say, I was a bit concerned that we didn’t have enough brain power. Turns out, that worry was unnecessary. We demolished this room! Unlike the others, you start with 60 minutes on the timer, and we completed it with 11 minutes left to go. This one splits the team up at the beginning and the goal is to come back together to alight all the senses. It required clear communication and a lot of teamwork to succeed. We were told at the end that only 14 per cent of of the people who play this one break out, so we felt like superstars.

For those that want to hang out a little longer, you can either get there early or stay for a bit at the end and commiserate over a drink because, surprisingly, Escape City does sell cans of beer and a few other non-alcoholic beverages. Basically, it’s a great option for parties of any kind. While I’m not likely to throw a shindig here myself, they sure do know how to reel me back in. Seeing as how I had pretty much tackled all of their rooms, I wasn’t expecting to be return again any time soon. But, lo and behold, for their anniversary, they’ve just launched a new one called Frank’s Revenge about an uncle looking to even the score. If I have my way, curse be damned. Our winning streak has to live on! I’ll be back with friends in tow!