I was excited to find a TravelZoo voucher for One18 Empire for dinner for 2 people – one appetizer, 2 mains and one dessert for $55. Even better, was that it turned out to be happy hour until 7 pm so we got booze for cheap too! After dinner we were heading to see a play called Calamity Town at Vertigo Theatre across the street. It actually works out quite well – park at the Telus Convention Centre parkade for $4.50, walk a block to One18 Empire, and then hit the theatre across the street. Our reservation was for 5:30 and the play was at 7:30 so I figured we would have plenty of time. Unfortunately, service was quite slow at the restaurant and we had to pack up our dessert to go.
This was my fourth time at One18 Empire and Jay’s first. I’d been here for supper only once before, so I was looking forward to trying something else on the menu. There’s a relatively small dinner menu, with one each of: salmon, steak, chicken, duck, braise, and a vegetarian dish. There’s also a good selection of ‘nosh’ appies, good for sharing.
We were seated towards the back of the restaurant, beside the ‘private’ room. It was quite loud until all the people in the group arrived and they finally shut the door to the room. In our row of seating there were three small tables, fairly close to each other. A perpetual pet peeve of mine, we could easily hear each others conversations.
Jay ordered a bourbon for $3.50 (wow!) and I ordered a Malbec (on tap) for $5. We shared the olives for $3. OMG. What a pile of olives for only $3! If you like salty, home marinated olives with a hint of lemon, give these a shot. Seriously – it’s a wicked deal. In typical fashion, Jay had stabbed a few olives out of the jar before I even had time to take a photo.
For the appy, our server recommended the scallops ($15), but we went for the calamari ($12). We’ve tried calamari at so many restaurants, it’s a good menu item to compare across the board. The calamari here is neither rings, squiggly tentacles, nor deep-fried. The calamari is thick cut pieces, grilled, and served with a sausage & tomato sauce with greens. It’s now Jay’s favourite calamari in the city. I’m calling it my third favourite. The table beside us ordered the scallops. The dish only came with 2, but they were very large – the largest I’ve ever seen served at a restaurant – and the people said the scallops were awesome.
For dinner, neither of us were super hungry, so Jay ordered the grilled duck breast ($26) and I ordered the smoked provolone stuffed portobello mushroom ($19). Jay ordered the duck medium rare, and it was quite enjoyable. The skin was crispy and the duck served with a somewhat sweet sauce. The dish came with small cut sweet potatoes etc., and it was definitely a hearty winter dish. Jay’s comments were that the veggies were cut too small (it took too much effort to get them on his fork) and the sauce was a bit too sweet. However, from the small bite that I took of his meal, all the flavours worked well together and if you like duck, I would recommend it.
I was a little confused by the smoked provolone stuffed portobello mushroom dish – it turned out to be two portobello mushrooms stuffed with sliced button mushrooms, sprinkled with panko and just a little bit of cheese. Since smoked provolone was highlighted in the name of the dish I thought it would be cheesier. But don’t get me wrong – the greens and the pureed parsnip (I think that’s what it was?) worked well with the mushrooms. The puree was smooth, rich and creamy, and when I put the mushroom, puree and greens in my mouth together, I forgot that the dish was vegetarian. If you’re looking for something relatively light I would recommend this dish too. Just don’t expect a portobello stuffed with smoked provolone. Other than a few shreds on top, I’m honestly not sure where the cheese was.
For dessert, I’d previously had the sticky toffee pudding and totally loved it – especially for only $4. But tonight, there was a One18 Chocolate Cake on the menu for $10. Since the TravelZoo coupon included dessert, with no consideration of price, I ordered the cake. Wow. Super delicious. It was plated simply, but it looked awesome, and it was quite a large piece – great for sharing. Sadly, since service was rather slow we were now in a rush to get to the play and asked for a box to pack it to go. We were so distracted we dug into the cake before I remembered to take a photo.
Service wasn’t great. Our server was really nice, but she was overworked. She had the large group in the private room and I’m not sure what else, but she was relying on the assistance of others to manage her tables. We had to ask the gentleman who she told us was helping her to get us another bottle of water, to bring the bill, and we asked him to bring us the ‘to go’ box for our dessert. All these items were things we had asked our server for, but she wasn’t able to complete.
For the money, One18Empire is good value. The food is always a good portion size and for downtown Calgary is priced well. The fact that you can get a glass of wine for $5 on a Friday or Saturday until 7pm is pretty awesome. I’m tired of paying $11 for a glass of wine every time I go out.
Over and above the $55 I paid for the TravelZoo voucher we owed $19.04. For a total of $74 (plus tip) we got one appetizer, two mains, one dessert, 2 bourbons and 2 glasses of wine. Finally, a great value at a downtown restaurant!