Played: Dinner and a movie.
Laid: Dinner and an escape room.
Try a more intense activity for your dates when you #Escape2OKC, sponsored by The Escape OKC. Each month, we’re pairing an escape room with a metro-area restaurant for a themed evening of food, fun and frustration.
This month I lured a few of my friends into the Conquered Embassy room at The Escape where we were tasked with finding a mole in the British embassy. We learned a lot since last month's disastrous attempt at The Lost Antidote; namely that it's better to get a hint and win than let pride lead you into a loss.
Another trick, of sorts, is to take more people. More hands make less work and it took the brains of all three of my friends (and my preternatural ability to get out of their way) to make our escape.
After you’ve succeeded (or failed miserably) in service of queen and country, lick your wounds and your fingers at Oklahoma City’s favorite Ethiopian restaurant: Queen of Sheba.
Much like an escape room asks you to work through a completely different scenario, Queen of Sheba asks you to try an entirely different style of dining. Well, not entirely different. There are tables and plates. That’s all pretty standard.
But you will likely note, upon being seated, that there is something missing from your table: silverware. That’s because you’ll be eating in the traditional Ethiopian manner of pinching your food and eating with your fingers.
I’d say it’s an ideal place to eat with children, but only if you have some very adventurous eaters. Ethiopian food is richly spiced — a far cry from the usually bland chicken nuggets and mac and cheese found on most kids’ menus.
If you’re apprehensive about trying a new cuisine, I have some good news for you. Queen of Sheba has a full bar and they know how to use it.
I know I’ve already pitched this as a date night spot, and it totally can be, but I think of QoS as a perfect place for a group outing with friends...if your friends don’t suck. I mean, nobody wants to spend the night at a table with someone who is going to gripe the entire time because they couldn’t order a cheeseburger. Know your audience, I guess I’m saying.
Get yourself in a finger food mentality with an order of sambusas ($4.50), which are kind of a cross between samosas and meat pies. We got the kind with chicken, but there is a vegetarian version if you’re a vegetarian version of a person.
They’re folded like long samosas and fried to that same lovely pale gold color, though the dough is a little lighter and smoother than I’ve found on most samosas. The flavor of fried dough is light, a bit like an unsweetened funnel cake, but once you crack into the middle, you get a big burst of chopped chicken mixed with herbs and green chili. There’s a definite heat here, but it fades pretty quickly, if you’re worried about that sort of thing.
The menu can be a little daunting for those unfamiliar with Ethiopian cuisine, which is most of us, right? This is why I’m always asking for advice from the server. Or, in our case, owners Mimi and Begib Younis. Both of them were working on Wednesday night, chatting with customers, dropping off fresh rolls of injera bread and doling out ordering advice.
Mimi steered us toward the sambusas and the kitfo ($14.99), a dish of rare chopped beef in seasonings with cooked collard greens and a housemade cottage cheese. You can stir it all up if you choose (they even provide a spoon) or just mix and match a bit with each bite.
Yes, we should return to the “no silverware” thing, right? And you might even be wondering what injera bread is. Injera is a soft, spongy, slightly sour bread that is cut into long strips and rolled up like elastic bandages. You’re serve a pile of them at the beginning of the meal and they’re always glad to bring you more.
Unroll the injera a bit and tear off a piece of an inch or more. You want enough to wrap around the food in front of you and pinch up a bite.
Injera’s flavor quickly fades into the background, but its presence is always felt because it keeps you engaged in the meal. It’s a community dining experience, which is why I think it’s so much better with a group.
(Also good with a group: trying lots of different dishes.)
Kitfo reminds me a little of beef tartare, but with more aggressive spicing. It’s very tender, not chewy at all, and melts on the tongue. The collards add a needed burst of acid, which balanced the richness of the meat, and the cottage cheese lends its creaminess and saltiness to the overall dish.
A warning: It’s a lot of food. Make sure you have a few folks to share with.
Probably the most popular dishes at Queen of Sheba are the messob ($14.99) and the vegetarian combination ($12.99). These are sampler platters, which are a godsend in a restaurant where none of the dishes are familiar.
On the messob, which can be up-sized for two, three or more guests, you get chicken, two kinds of beef, salad, stir-fried green beans with carrots, lentils, chickpeas and a blend of potatoes and carrots. It’s a lot.
The best way I can describe Ethiopian flavors is to compare them to Indian spicing, which isn’t terribly accurate. They don’t taste the same, really, but the form factor is similar — stewed meats and vegetables — and the depth and intensity of the flavors are alike.
The lighter the color, the lighter the spicing. For instance, the chickpeas and the potatoes and carrots are a bright yellow and each have a buttery flavor, though the chickpeas are also a bit citrusy.
The lentils, beef and chicken, which are dark brown and red, have a lot more spice. I liked the yellow curry beef for it’s slightly tangy flavor, while the red curry beef was a lot more earthy and piquant.
The chicken, still on the bone, sits in the middle of the plate and has a chili-like flavor that goes well with the ultra tender meat.
There wasn’t a thing on that plate I wouldn’t eat again and again. It’s nice to have a sampler that really does run the gamut of flavors and textures. I’m not sure if I could choose just one of them to have as a main course. The variety is what makes it so nice.
But if I’m going to stop eating something, it’s because I’m ready to eat something else. In this case, that something was chocolate cake ($4.50).
Just a quick aside, but I’m pretty happy that it was called chocolate cake and not Death By Chocolate or Chocolate Suicide or Help! That Chocolate Stabbed Me In The Eye And Stole My Wallet! When did we decide that chocolate needed violent imagery to get across its richness?
This cake was plenty rich and it didn’t have to threaten my life to make its point. I mean, I don’t know how you feel about very rich, very moist chocolate cake that reminded us (in a good way) of a chocolate Zinger, but I’m a fan.
#Escape2OKC reviews are sponsored by The Escape OKC, Oklahoma City’s home for great live escape rooms. Bring a team of up to seven players and match wits with the puzzle masters who designed each of the five rooms. Whether you’re a spy, a detective or just someone trying to stop the end of the world, The Escape has something for everyone.