February 05, 2017

Trapped and Epic Escape, Escape rooms, Downtown Victoria

This past week I got older. To celebrate, I got free breakfast at Denny's, had coffee with some friends, and then went to two escape rooms.

I count five escape rooms now in Victoria. Which seems a lot for a small city. But I'm guessing there's the market out there, not least as once you've done a room, you can't go back to same place. And if being locked in rooms and solving puzzles is something you like, you'll want to repeat it.

I like solving puzzles. I also like discovering a story line through play and collaboration games.

Trapped - Wharf Street

The newest place in town, who have rooms across Canada, using the same set ups and puzzles.  Slick graphics on the website, lots of clear branding, and easy enough to book.  $28 per person, discounted by booking online and further so by becoming a member.   Works out to under $25, and FREE if it's your birthday week.

I choose the Escape for the Ancient Pyramid room.  I'm not going to give up any spoilers here, it's Egyptian tomb themed.  Sand on the floor, simple story line about how we go there, and away we went.  The room is the most atmospheric of the four I've visited, and is not crammed in with junk or red herrings.  It felt spartan on the number of puzzles we saw. But it involved all five of us throughout. We needed to work as a team to try out various things and get through the puzzles.

We got out with nine minutes to spare. The very last puzzle disappointed me. The rest was logical, interesting and engaging, with nice little a-ha moments.  We did radio-in for a hint, which was a little bit of a head slap when we got it, but we needed it.

I'd like to have seen one more challenge in the room. But it was getting out with plenty of time to spare (some teams have done it even faster) that made me feel that way.  It was the only room I've ever escaped from, so I should take it as win and whine less.

I liked the clear instructions we were given.  There was the minimum of fussing around, and maximum of getting in.  It is a well run and organized set up there at Trapped. I want to go back and do the other three rooms (Hospital, Medieval Dungeon, Anime Killer).

Epic Escape - Bastion Square

I visited Epic Escape just after they opened in April 2017 (see review here). It's been almost two years, but a second room is now open, called 'Judge's Verdict'.  The aim is to bust your friend out of jail for a crime they didn't commit.   Again no spoilers, but the set up to the room, and instructions are very well done. There is a nice little surprise right at the start.

The rest of the room though kind of fell away. It's a good set up, with lots to explore, but there's no central story. Half the puzzles feel separated from the theme. The ones that do fit were excellent, but too often there was a bunch of stuff that -looked- like clues with nowhere to go from them.  We had to get help once, and had the room operator help us as well as we were getting nowhere. We appreciated that they kept an eye on us.  But overall, there was too many random locks with not enough (to us) places where we could try and work together. I'd like to have seen some more of the random objects used and less of the other stuff.  And a little bit of discovery of a backstory.

I do like how friendly the staff are, and they called to let us know one of us left a coat behind. I'll visit their next room, if it's less than two years away.


I have also been to Victoria Escape Games in the past.  To compare, they promise some great themes, but the delivery was lacking. With some areas where they could have sold the story line a wasted opportunity.  If you've built a room based on the legendary Miskatonic University and defeating the Great Old Ones... dress like it, act like it, and don't spend too long on the mechanical stuff.  Get in and playing, and don't explain the introduction to us.  It either stand on its own, or needs re-writing.  They run larger rooms, which does mean there are multiple routes to the same answer.  This can be demoralizing for anyone who spends time on one puzzle to be beaten there by someone else.

I have not visited Horror Escape  as jump scares are not my thing. I've heard good things from those who love that stuff.  I am impressed at what I've seen on the owner's facebook pages on the build and construction. But the theme of dirty horror leaves me cold.

There is also Escape Warriors on Blanshard.  I know nothing about them.


If you want a puzzle experience with actors, food and beer, I can suggest www.MurderOnTheAgenda.com. It runs 10/11 February 2017.  It's an event I'm producing, which has been very well received in the first two weekends.

January 22, 2017

Hawk & Hen, Downtown (revisit)

Number 6 on Brunch Places to visit in 2017 is "Hawk and Hen".  Which is convenient, as it is fast become a favourite regular place for my friends and I to eat at.    That's because there's no line up, decent coffee and buttery, waxy, golden potatoes.

I reviewed Hawk & Hen in 2015, not long after it opened.  I haven't been back for anything but brunch, but feel it's probably time I did.  The space does seem to have gathered more customers in the mean time, and the menu has changed up a little, but it's still looking at serving up classic, fresh west coast breakfasts with small, but good twists.

The restaurant is split over three levels, with the front side having two tiers next to tall windows. The windows deserve to get lots of warm light in. They instead face north, looking at the old brick heritage buildings of Yates Street.  Buildings much improved and renovated in recent years, mind you. The time I went, the main feature of those buildings was two ladies shotgunning Lucky Lager to Black Sabbath's "War Pigs".

Good on them.

Inside, the tables on the lower levels are big and friendly and relaxing. But always feels cramped being underneath on the ground floor.  Even now I have my head bent down, feeling like I've crawled underneath a tree house to have lunch.  It's not that low at all in there, but has air of enclosure that i wish it didn't.

But the food.  Last time I went I ordered the BC Salmon Skillet: a layer of buttery, golden Yukon potatoes, covered in smoked salmon, latkes and capers.  Topped with two poached eggs and some fresh Hollandaise.  In cast iron skillet.

I suspect my cholesterol is up several points.  But it was worth it.  Some how they make the potatoes both firm and waxy in consistency, and rich tasting as well. The earthy nice of the spuds comes through.  It's clearly the butter that does the trick. I am sure it's not just covering everything melted butter and hoping.  I do that at home sometimes, and it doesn't quite have this result.

The eggs were done to around medium/medium soft.  Hard to get perfect, but they were pretty damn near, and oozed the yolks nicely over the salmon and capers.  This made for a savory, fishy forkful.The slight smoke in the salmon cuts through the eggs just enough to make it a great combination.  In fact, even though they serve thick hand-sliced rashers of bacon, and one of my friends had it sitting there in my eyeline, I didn't feel the least bit jealous. And I've had the bacon.  It's good bacon.  Just this is good salmon too.

(I'm just sending a message to suggest we go back soon for another brunch, as I do want the bacon next time).

They serve hipster friendly Bows and Arrow coffee.  Hipster friendly, and well roasted, good coffee. All the while kept freshened up by a pair of attentive servers.  The staff definitely seemed more relaxed and on the ball than my first visit,

One to visit for sure, and deserving in a top ten of Victoria brunch places.  But hopefully this post won't get too much attention so there's a queue to get in.

January 08, 2017

Chuck's Burger Bar, Sidney, BC

Post 1 of the 2017 challenge, and it's a nomination by Rayna of Quench Wines. Chuck's Burger Bar in Sidney. It claims to have the best burgers on the island, using local, fresh ingredients. So well worth a try. Especially as I was at the airport to pick up Andrea from the airport. Now I look at the map, I know it's just around the corner from the airport terminal. But I didn't do that. I set off on a grand tour of Deep Cove, Lands End Road and Swartz Bay instead.

It was nice to see some of the countryside. We passed the church used in 'Graceppoint', the terrible remake of the British show 'Broadchurch'. I pointed this out to Andrea. She wasn't impressed. I think my 'turn right out of the airport' plan was not the right one.

We did get back to somewhere I recognized. The highway by the ferry terminal. We headed south and called up a map. This quickly found us Chuck's in the middle of the small industrial estate next to the airport. Nestled next to a Boyd's Auto Body, opposite Slegg's Lumber is Chuck's Burger Bar.

It was still a little early in the evening, so we were the only two people in there at first. Our server, David, was super warm and friendly, and got us settled in with the menu and fresh water. The inside of the place is what I call 'West coast wood'. This means lots of varnished lumber, big cuts of wood for the tables, stained dark brown chairs and exposed bricks. Clean, tidy but not feeling over-dressed. It also had a huge picture of a cow along one wall.

Showing pictures of the animals you are about to eat is a thing.
A cow. Painted.
The menu is large... as long as you want burgers. There are nine different patties to choose from. These include ground bacon, Angus beef and lamb. To go with this is are around 50 different toppings, so you can build your own perfect burger. This goes along with a host of different cheeses; and the option to add a 1/4lb of lobster as well.

Or if you can't be thinking of your own recipe, there's twenty or so pre-made burger recipes. For example, the Hawaiian is a bacon burger with pineapple and a zesty tequila BBQ sauce.

The Pescetarian caught my eye. A veggie burger topped with jack cheese and lobster, with black pepper mayo. I checked in with our server on how the veggie burger was made. I was told it was made with fresh vegetables. Not the fake veggie mince or some weird quinoa and mushroom mix. So I decided to go for it. It was either this most unusual offering, or the standard cheese burger.
I fear I need to go back and try the cheese burger.

This was a disappointing mess of a burger. A breaded veggie burger that is super crispy on the outside, but with a muddy mess of vegetables inside. There's no real flavour to it, but a odd combination of textures. The lobster meat was tepid or even cold. That doesn't work for me on a burger, and as I expect it was from the fridge it was slight rubbery as well. That made for a unpleasant mouthful. None of the flavours or textures were working together. It was a sad choice, as it looked pleasant, and apart from the choice to have cold lobster, all put together well.
But it just didn't work for me.

The mound of fresh cut fries served with it were crisp, fluffy and great fries. The coleslaw was good, the pickle spear crunchy, the service great. Everything but the burger. Which makes me a little sad to write about it, as I wanted to say they're were all awesome.

I do have to report Andrea thought her poutine was good to great (needed the cheese to be a bit more melty). She ordered the Fire Grilled Chicken and Chorizo burger. The report I asked for said it had some great spicy kick to it, and was still warm and tasty when she finished it up later.
So, you should -probably- go to Chuck's and try it out. I know next time I'm doing an airport run and want food, I'll go there instead of White Spot. Now I know it exists.

And I will report back in.