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.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Aarde

Our table of food on our first visit.

Around for less than two months, Aarde, headed by Chef Guru Singh, is located near the Ice District at 10184 104 Street right in the heart of downtown Edmonton. The menu is inspired by his travels across Europe with regionally influenced cuisine being presented using locally sourced ingredients.

My first visit to the restaurant was a spur-of-the-moment decision. After my friend and I were done perusing the pieces at an art show, we were hungry, so we opted to check out Aarde. It had opened about ten days prior. Even without a reservation, it didn’t seem to be a problem to get a table. Granted, it wasn’t the ideal table. With seats situated immediately to the right of the entrance, we were greeted by a breeze every single time someone went through the door. Our food quickly cooled because of that.

Still, we enjoyed our meal. Although they look to have a great cocktail program (based on images I’ve seen on Instagram), I chose to go with water that evening. Instead, I focused on the food. As suggested by the server, we shared a few dishes, including the Crispy Cauliflower ($11), Mushroom and Artichoke Tartine ($11), Duck and Cornbread Skillet ($15), and Chorizo Sausage ($13).

Crispy Cauliflower

As far as Crispy Cauliflower goes, I’ve had similar before. I felt the deep fried batter may have been a tad heavy-handed, and I’m not sure why cauliflower dust (I’m assuming this is dehydrated veggie) is necessary. Perhaps it brings out the essence of the flavour better? What it has going for it is the maple and mustard glaze for that sweet and savoury balance. The chili flakes provided a little bit of heat as well.

Mushroom and Artichoke Tartine

I could have had several slices of the Mushroom and Artichoke Tartine. This was arguably the best dish of the evening. The wild mushroom fricassee was wonderfully creamy and rich, marrying well with the wine poached artichokes, and creamed spinach. The house baked grilled sourdough bread was perfectly dense enough to hold all of the toppings and keep its texture while being soft enough to eat without scraping the roof of my mouth.

On paper, the Duck and Cornbread Skillet sounded super appealing. Shredded confit duck leg? Check. Coffee jus? Check. Apple mostarda (candied fruit and mustard-flavoured syrup)? Check. Meuwly’s mustard? Check. Fresh cornbread? Check. I love duck and I love cornbread. It tasted fine. I just thought the amount of meat was lacking for an item listed under the meat section of the menu. I also found the cornbread to be kind of heavier in consistency than expected. It was like the middle held too much moisture and wasn’t able to rise enough.

Chorizo Sausage

I really appreciate eateries that make everything from scratch. With that being said, Aarde did not disappoint when it came to their Chorizo Sausage. Lightly grilled with perfect seared lines, the sausage was laid whole across a bed of kale and potato mash. Served to the side was bright pickled red cabbage. Herb oil finished it off. When cut apart, the meat held together well. It wasn’t too tightly packed, making for even cooking and heat distribution. Not overly salty, well-seasoned, and a great mix of textures on the palate.

As we finished up our meal, the chef approached the table next to ours and seemed to dote on them. They ate a single dessert between them, and, for whatever reason, the restaurant was keen to know what they thought and provided them with complimentary beverages. I’m not one to ever ask for special treatment as I’ve always gone in anonymously to try restaurants to be as honest as possible. But, for a new business, I thought it was odd that they weren’t taking the time to ask for feedback from all of their patrons. Aside from that, service seemed to lack as soon as we finished our food. Our server didn’t really ask if we wanted dessert or anything else, and it took forever to flag her down again to get our bill when we were ready to leave.

Despite the end to our night at Aarde, I chalked it all up to growing pains. Therefore, in December, I suggested it as a spot for dinner. A good friend of mine was back in town for Christmas and I wanted her to sample something new.

This time, I made a reservation in advance. I actually used their online form, which is powered by Wix Restaurants. I received an email shortly after submitting saying my request was being processed and that I would get an email or text message to confirm. That never showed up, so I ended up phoning on December 26 to ask. Turns out they had it listed in their books, but obviously hadn’t followed up on processing it through the system. I’m going to assume that this was missed because I input my reservation request on Christmas Eve. Hopefully it’s more reliable the rest of the year.

For this particular visit, because of my previous experience, I requested a table away from the door thinking it’d be better and warmer. That was not the case. I’m not sure if they just don’t believe in indoor heating or what, but it was freezing in there again even though we were tucked away behind a wall in a nook. Oh well. I tried.

To eat, Kirk and I split four items between us: Vandaag Soep ($7), Roasted Butternut Squash ($9), as well as two of the larger plates, Duck Breast ($20) and Beef Ribs ($24). Kirk additionally ordered one of the rotational draught beers (20 oz. for $9) to quench his thirst.

Potato Leek Soup from Aarde

Dishes were spaced out decently, so everything wasn’t delivered all at the same time. The first to arrive from the kitchen was the Vandaag Soep (a.k.a. daily artisan soup). On this day, it was a luscious potato leek dressed with twirls and drops of flavoured oils. Incredibly smooth with a slightly peppery finish, it was truly delicious and comforting on a chilly day.

The Roasted Butternut Squash was surprisingly one of my favourites. Thick pieces of the gourd were prepared with pistachios, beet souffle, gremolata (an herb condiment typically made using lemon zest, garlic, and parsley), crispy leeks, lemon garlic leek oil, and pickled onions. It looked simple, but I think that it was probably more deceiving that I thought. There were a number of components and each required careful preparation. Extremely flavourful and satisfying without being overwhelming.

Beef Ribs

Between the two mains, I’d definitely say that the Duck Breast was better. While the Beef Ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender, I thought that the meat had more chunks of gloppy fat and grizzle than I’d prefer. I wasn’t a huge fan of the celery root puree either, which I thought watered down the overall taste of the food. I did like the charred cabbage more than I thought I would though.

On the other hand, the Duck Breast was fantastic. The seared duck breast was ever so slightly pink and really succulent. Sure, there was some fat between the meat and the skin, but it wasn’t to the point of taking away from the rest of the dish. A mushroom fricassee similar to that of the Mushroom and Artichoke Tartine and a handful of lentil fritters accompanied the meat. Very on point. We’d both recommend this duck to others.

London Fog Crème Brûlée on the right

Being the holidays, we also indulged in dessert. The sizeable London Fog Crème Brûlée ($10) was made with organic earl grey tea infused into the custard. On the side were a couple of biscotti cookies. I only had a small bite of the custard and sugar crackle. It was strongly flavoured, which I find to be of importance when it comes to sweets. It doesn’t have to be saccharine, but you should be able to taste what it strives to emulate.

Dutch Almond Cake

Kirk and I divided the Dutch Almond Cake ($10). It was scrumptious! Somewhat dense and a tad chewy, it was still moist and delicate in flavour. The outer edges and top were crusty, and the sliced nuts added minor bitterness. The scoop of avocado gelato was oddly gelatinous while being crumbly. It actually did have a creamy mouthfeel though, and it was refreshing, but otherwise didn’t act like a typical relative of ice cream.

Aarde has some kinks to iron out in terms of the atmosphere, hospitality, and certain dishes. However, there’s a lot of promise, too. If the team works to hone their craft, this could be one of the next success stories in the Edmonton restaurant scene.

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: Wilfred’s

Check-in to Wilfred’s upon arrival.

Wilfred’s is one of the newest restaurants to dot the Edmonton landscape. It’s situated within the popular Brewery District inside a fairly nondescript 100-year-old vintage brick building that used to belong to the old Molson Brewery. Completely refurbished, the heritage space is now unrecognizable. The interior is a wash of light woods, a mix of pink and white accents, dark metals, and whimsical art from Vanguard Works.

The Pink Blazer was the weekly Pink Drink sometime in October.

Even though Wilfred’s, a contemporary diner, had opened by the official start of summer 2018, Kirk and I held off on our visit. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago when we decided it was time to check it out. I’m not going to lie, it was their latest weekly featured Pink Drink ($13), The Pastel Blazer, that got me in the door. It was actually more bitter than I expected it to be, and the ingredients — vodka, Aperol, unsweetened coconut milk, lime juice, and egg white — had to be stirred regularly to avoid separation, but it was, overall, a smooth and refreshing beverage that lasted me through our dinner.

Everything about Wilfred’s is curated from the wallpaper to the menu.

To eat, the two of us split a couple of plates: Wilfred’s Burger ($18) with added white cheddar ($2) and soup ($3) subbed in for the usual fries, as well as the Fried Chicken & Prosciutto Cutlet ($25). Arguably the best thing about both dishes was the size as they were generously portioned. For the price, I’m glad to see that they didn’t skimp. However, I do feel that each one could use some improvement.

Beginning with the burger, this consisted of a hefty nine ounce patty of beef topped with bacon, lettuce, tomato and onion. It’s so thick that I found it rather difficult to unhinge my jaw to take a real bite out of the burger. The bun also didn’t fare too well as it slid around and fell apart as I ate. The meat itself was cooked to about a medium well, so it wasn’t completely colourless, but it also wasn’t as juicy as I hoped it would be. Thankfully, it was fresh though. It certainly didn’t seem to be a prefab patty, and, that, I’ll commend Wilfred’s for. Had it not been for the added cheese and the crispy bacon, the burger would have had relatively no flavour. I highly recommend that the restaurant creates a signature sauce to go with this menu item.

Cauliflower & Potato Soup with bacon and chives

The upgrade to their Cauliflower & Potato Soup was the saving grace to this dish. It was thick, creamy and smooth. When served hot, it makes for the perfect hearty soup to have during the onset of winter. The tiny bits of bacon and chives added a little fattiness and herbaceousness.

Fried Chicken & Prosciutto Cutlet

Our second plate of Fried Chicken & Prosciutto Cutlets was enormous. The two breasts or legs of meat had been pounded until evenly thin throughout. Layered with prosciutto and then breaded and fried, they were super crispy without tasting or feeling greasy. I could have used some more prosciutto as it was hard to discern its presence. Yet, upon careful inspection, I did see it there. If you try this, definitely squeeze some fresh lemon juice onto the chicken. The zest kicks the dish up a notch, and the acidity breaks down some of the salt. On the side was an arugula salad with tomatoes and Parmesan. This was a great accompaniment to the chicken. The sharp taste of the greens, the tartness of the tomatoes, and the pungency of the cheese paired very well with the meat.

Postcards designed by Vanguard Works are provided with the bill.

When all was said and done, our meal at Wilfred’s was a bit of a miss. Sure, the service was quite good, the atmosphere was pleasant (admittedly a tad cramped though), and they have an excellent bar program. Nevertheless, the food isn’t meeting it’s full potential. I understand that simplicity is key at times, but, in the case of Wilfred’s, the kitchen needs to do something to set themselves apart from the rest. Right now, they’re not. They should take a chance and be as playful with the menu as they are with the decor.

The interior of Wilfred’s is light and whimsical.

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!