At times it takes an object of great beauty to expose our warts. Really, I have no other faithful way of reviewing the Wobbly Olive's excellence and significance here than by starkly contextualizing it in terms of our town's greatest physical and symbolic divide: the east/west head-butt that pits Manitoid, Pioneer and Hipster against Chain-Gang and Cookie-Cutter.
Neither resident desires to venture (so agonizingly!) far into the other's hood, not for fear of physical harm, but as best as anyone can surmise, because of philosophical and stylistic opposition. It reduces down to the prosaic word "lifestyle." Picture Shuga's, then Gunther Toody's — 'nuff said.
Except that it's not, really. Because there's a small batch of worthwhile independents and ethnic eateries long entrenched on Powers Boulevard in the frontline fight between corporate and local kitchens, and a stereotype typically acts as the first indication of a misconception. It's one I can't help but play into as I largely gush about the pretty plates of food you see on these pages.
It's the gourmand I seek to address here, for he or she will be elated to learn that fine dining on par with our west-side stalwarts now exists in the First & Main Town Center.
Not since the failed hope of nearby Palapa's Surfside (now José Muldoon's) have I seen such a bold chess move.
Talk about a holistic experience: We're as transfixed by WO's heavy, sexy silverware and cool, curvy plates as we are by its gorgeously presented food. My reviewing colleague, Bryce Crawford, stifles klepto urges to pester our waitress — actually Inez Fitzgerald, one of the hands-on owners, none of whom are taking a paycheck to see this launch — for vendor info, while I stare stupidly at a quartet of Moroccan lamb-beef-pork meatballs ($8) bolstering a lean-to of Panko-crusted green beans over a wide smear of pistachio-flecked Harissa chili paste.
A couple inches away, bright white negative space becomes a ripple in the wide rectangular plate, literally a wave taking the ceramic off the table and then swooping downward; in the center of that wave's crest droops a small circular compartment, filled with a glossy anthill of olive-oil-bathed, mint-strewn pearl couscous.
I could go into such exhaustive detail for every item that landed on the butcher paper that covers black tablecloths in the modern space, currently accented by Aboriginal-esque abstract paintings via Cottonwood. But a focus on flavors shall have to distill the essence of it all, because with an affordable, small-plate sharing concept, we covered quite a bit of ground. Though a poker-themed menu design somewhat belies the serious eats (as do sporadic misspellings across it), it does feel fun and make you wish you could try it all. Rather than the limp something-for-everyone, this is the everything-for-someone (our gourmand), a hyper-eclectic smorgasbord of interesting pairings.
The only flaw in our meatball platter was an over-salting of the couscous. Past that, the only element I'd adjust is the heavy, syrupy sweetness on a non-alcoholic drink list ($3.50 each) that's plenty lively: a beach-y coco-berry fizz, a fresh lavender mint soda water, a balanced watermelon pomegranate green tea, and a throat-tingling pineapple chipotle lemonade. Late-night filmgoers may gravitate toward weekly movie-themed shots, but I instead relished the Honey Badger ($7) of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, ginger ale and lemon.
Kiss the Cook
Sailing through seafood selections, our daily ceviche ($8) was more of a salmon tartare, lightly citrusy and less spicy than the Szechuan pepper adornment indicates. Falafel-sized, meaty crab cakes ($11) steer Southern via hearty succotash, fatback and molasses accoutrements, while scallops ($13) — the same non-injected, high-quality ones served at Carlos' Bistro and Blue Star, notes Sean Fitzgerald — prove the single most superlative sampling of our visits. They go to Japan with a crispy miso char, but remain almost marrow-soft inside, perfectly (not) seared (through) and perched on a puddle of smoked seaweed beurre blanc.
On the light side, the Wobbly Olives ($6) plate highlights simplicity with a basic bruschetta setup plus tapenade, fried goat cheese and a cluster of olives and caperberries. A Mason Jar ($4) filled with house-pickled veggies somehow works with a bright tarragon aioli dip. The Fattoush salad ($4) isn't the common Middle Eastern pita salad, but a deconstructed lineup of a sumac vinaigrette-tossed arugula tangle, tomato slivers and a chickpea-stuffed cucumber round.
The chilled Tomato Asparagus Indecision soup ($5) arrives as a yin-yang-like pool; one half lighter, looser, Kermit-colored asparagus purée, the other chunkier tomato bisque, essences of truffle oil, saffron and chive garnish setting off note after note of taste elation. Spears of grilled asparagus ($5) meet warmed Georgia peach wedges and shavings of Spanish Manchego (sheep) cheese with thickened brown butter accenting both sweet and savory characteristics.
On the comfort-food side, the Poutine ($6) rocks crispy fries, mild white cheddar curds and a truffle-forward gravy. True Sliders ($2/beef; $3/Colorado lamb/$4 organic bison) sport an interesting sweet potato bun and smoked tomato chutney as a refined answer to ketchup. The ingredient-recycling (i.e. yesterday's meat) and outwardly humble Trash Can Chili ($6) finds richness with bittersweet chocolate and Breckenridge Oatmeal Stout additives, finishing with a lingering hint of cheap(er) beer flavor. Four mini lamb blue corn tacos ($8) are the don't-miss, stupid-good item, also seeing chocolate infusion, plus a root-beer braising whose faint candy edge balances the meat's gaminess, with pickled carrot acidity putting that sugar in check. Layers of fun.
The house ice cream and sorbet sampler ($5) finds proficiency but little play (no odd flavor accents) and the Adult Cordial Mousse Cups ($10) are basically liqueur shooters in large chocolate thimbles. Soaringly better is the James Brownie ($7) with hard peanut nougat and a strip of curried bacon joining the stout reduction-sauced, superior chocolate mass.
Visit our IndyBlog to meet chef David Cook, the well traveled, Johnson & Wales-educated 32-year-old behind all the action. Touching on veganism (expect items on the next seasonal menu), classical French-to-molecular gastronomy and organizational philosophy, he notes seven initial menu rewrites prior to opening (squab and sweetbreads being a little too bold out of the gate, they felt).
If you think we have suppositions and expectations surrounding Powers Boulevard, just imagine Cook's befuddlement after answering a Craigslist ad and venturing to Colorado for the first time to stage for WO's partners. There's not just a potential for him to set precedent out east with these plates, but a chance to knock thousands of west-side noses from the air. Dinner in the Springs has never been so important, and it's rarely as colorful.