Blog entries

We pit three Olympians against two Seattleites against one Spokanite

Posted in our über-incorrigible libation guide: Coffee.

Team OlyCOOL recently undertook the first few steps of a Fact Finding Mission™ in Olympia, Spokane, and Seattle, where we pitted the cities’ finest coffee spots against each other. After countless meetings and seminars filled with deliberation and soul-searching, we are finally ready to reveal our findings.

Olympia

Obsidian (414 4th Ave E)

There’s something kind of interesting about a family-friendly, quasi black metal spot with an awesome selection of waffles. Yes, Obsidian is different, and their coffee is something Count Grishnackh would approve of. (I mean, he might be a convicted murderer and all, but he’s also Norwegian, so I assume he has an impeccable taste in coffee.)

The beans of choice here are from Stumptown, and the Americanos were surprisingly good. Again: a family friendly, quasi black metal spot with an awesome selection of waffles. Obsidian is just not somewhere I’d expect to get a good espresso based drink, yet the shots were well pulled, and the temperature of the Americano was just right.

It makes sense in retrospect, I suppose, what with the darker Nordic theme. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised the coffee here is reminiscent of what one finds in Scandinavia, currently the epicenter of the hipper than thou coffee scene.

Olympia Coffee Roasting (108 Cherry St)

We have previously posted about Olympia (as we affectionately refer to it as), but with its new downtown location and all, we see no reason why we wouldn’t mention them again.

Their new spot is quite enjoyable. It has a Scandinavian meets Northwest look to it, with a decent (though probably not large enough) seating capacity. Everything here seems customized and automated, from the «Olympia Coffee» branded espresso machine to the Poursteady. The latter made our Honduras pour-over, which was about as good as non-human-made coffee can be. Flavor wise, Olympia’s beans were great as always, and here they were slowly and automatically poured. Perfect timing and perfect temperature—humanity was overrated in the first place.

We’ve had the good fortune of trying many great coffee spots over the last few years, Olympia is right up there with the best of them. It doesn’t take much to figure out why they won Roast Magazine’s «Micro Roaster» of the year in 2013. Currently they’re our favorite of the Mission™, and we’re just fine with that..

Bar Francis (110 Franklin St NE)

Located within Dumpster Values’ bourgeoning vintage-mall is Bar Francis, and a good spot it is. Granted, our coffee was served in paper cups, so make sure you specify you want a mug should you decide to hang out.

Our shots were properly pulled, and the Americanos tasted great. The interiors are, somewhat (but probably not) interestingly, kind of in-between that of Obsidian and Olympia. Think Obsidian’s colors inverted, and you get the idea. A little grungy, yet inviting—a black metal fan who doesn’t like black.

I don’t know, there’s really not that much more to be said about Francis. They do a good job in a good space, and really, while that might sound sort of uninteresting, it’s what a coffee spot should be.

Spokane

Indaba (210 N Howard St)

One could probably argue that Indaba is not Spokane’s premiere coffee-spot, though then again, one could probably argue that it is, too. Either way, Indaba is quite excellent, and their espresso maker on tap system is pretty impressive looking in its own right.

As for the coffee, my Americano was great. Excellent, in fact. It was served at a lower temperature than most of the others we tried during this test, which certainly helped kick up the flavors. The beans—from Indaba’s own roaster—were light, not exactly to Scandinavian levels, but still to the point where the more delicate details were easy to pick up on.

The space is comfortable, and the baristi friendly, all adding up to a great experience.

Seattle

Milstead & Co (770 N 34th St)

This was quite possibly the biggest let-down of the Mission™. Milstead has quite the reputation to live up to, but fell flat during our visit. This largely came down to an overeager barista who pretty much punched the AeroPress plunger through the filter-cap in the span of three seconds, jumping on top of it to literally squeeze grounds through the filter. (That might be a hyperbole, but you get the picture.)

OK, the end-result wasn’t actually that bad, but it had a bit of a bitter aftertaste to it, something I attribute to the overzealous press. Still, one should expect a bit more from a spot of Milstead’s reputation.

Vif (4401 Fremont Ave N)

The surprise hit of the Mission™ was Vif, located in the Fremont district. Their pour-over, using light-roasted beans from Olympia Coffee, came out perfectly, highlighting the Ethiopian beans’ acidity, and the currants slapped our faces in a stern but loving fashion. (I know it gets a bit old to point out a coffee’s currant flavors, but you know what… It’s a good litmus test, the fruit-flavor.)

Vif holds a good café feel, with a wine selection, good food, and excellent background music. Kinda French in other words, just with good coffee.

Conclusion

In this first part of the Coffe. Fact Finding Mission™, five of the six spots held high enough of a quality to live up to Washington’s coffee culture reputation. The last one was a disappointment. And for good measure, we threw in Batdorf & Bronson, which we visited a while back, too.

And speaking of coffee culture, why not end on this Anthony Bourdain quote? There is no culture around coffee. Coffee is a beverage, not a culture.

The standings so far…

  1. Olympia Coffee Roasting
  2. Caffé Vita
  3. Obsidian
  4. Indaba
  5. Vif
  6. Bar Francis & Co
  7. Milstead & Co
  8. Batdorf & Bronson

Our Table

Posted in OlyCOOL—the premier-ish guide to Olympia.

Could Our Table offer up the best restaurant and service in Olympia? Strike that: Our Table offers up the best restaurant and service in Olympia.

There’s something sort of Olympia over Our Table’s interiors: Mismatched tables topped with mismatched flatware, flanked by mismatched chairs… It is not a beautiful space in the traditional sense (a nice, old bar aside), and rather struck us as a pop-up restaurant, which it sort of is. Our Table has up until recently served its food through a window into the neighboring Eastside Club Tavern, though has now additionally opened its doors for brunch from Friday through Monday.

I kinda like this type of… quirky, I guess… operation. While I’m sure it’s not something that will be taught at business school, having chefs just set up a quick space, cooking pretty much whatever they want… The people behind Our Table uses the word «honest» a lot when we chatted to them about their restaurant, and that’s really what it feels like.

The food, by the way, is absolutely stellar. It might sound like we came straight from the closest sports-bar when we say we tried the sliders, fried oysters, and tacos, but what we got here was so much more than that. The oyster, for example, were lightly fried in a flavorful breading, right to having the perfect bite. I mean, really, fried oysters might sound simple, but this is one of the few times I can recall having really, really liked them. The accompanying «hot sauce»—really, that is underselling it—held the same quality, with just a little bit of a kick, and nice depths of flavors. They might not have looked like much, but good grief did they have the proper taste and bite.

As for the sliders, the venison was cooked to the proper doneness, and well seasoned. They won’t kick you in the teeth, but you can certainly pick up on the balanced flavors straight away. The sparsely applied pumpkin-ketchup added just the proper amount of spicy-sweetness to the overall package, wrapped up in some semi-sweet buns. «Sliders» is a misnomer here; these were so much more.

Finally, the carnitas tacos were proclaimed to be one of Team OlyCOOL’s favorites. The meat was properly prepared, all juicy without being greasy, and with the perfect chew. Peach pico added a sweet acidity to the palate, and for heaven’s sake, don’t analyze these things, just run and buy them. They are fantastic, so much better than even a good taco should be.

Our Table is a place you want to be friends with. The kind of friend you hang out with on a regular basis. It’s awesomely non-pretentious and serves awesomely tasty food. Even better, it gives us an excuse to go to Eastside—a spot with a great beer selection, but semi-icky atmosphere. We can gladly celebrate the former and forget the latter, when we can get food from Our Table there.

Troll 2

Here in One Star Classics you will find analyses of Netflix’s finest movies.

It is, or at least should be, up for debate if Troll 2 objectively is, as many claim, the worst movie ever made. That it likely is the second most prolific god-awful movie out there (after Plan 9 from Outer Space) is pretty clear, and hell, if this is the place the children start their journey into misunderstood movie territory, then so be it.

And of course there are so many things wrong with Troll 2 that it truly is a laugh-out-loud movie. I’m not talking a detached, ironic kind of funny; I’m talking bona fide hilarous. Just the foundation of the thing is amazing—the number "2" in the title aside, Troll 2 is not a sequel to Troll, and the title is simply a marketing ploy by some clever Italians. (Not unlike Zombie 2, though that is not an awful film. If you’re wondering about the many unrelated Italian sequels out there, it simply comes down to their lax trademark system.)

Said Italians didn’t speak English particularly well either, making the script nonsensical. Many know the rather literal «you can’t piss on hospitality» line, but at least that makes some sort of sense, unlike large chunks of dialogue often stringed together with random English words. (Apparently the actors—community-theater grade at best, all who had auditioned for bit parts—were repeatedly shut down when trying to convince director Claudio Fragasso of the many futilities of direct translations.)

I mean, my god, there really is nothing good about Troll 2. This is a movie where the goblins—they are never referred to as trolls—eat humans, an idea based on the screenwriter being «pissed off» (direct quote) by her friends becoming vegetarians. Not exactly a solid foundation for a film.

More importantly, though… While Troll 2 is its own movie, it is also a warning about what will come 26 years after its release. Right now, the filming of Suicide Squad has just wrapped up, and much has been made of Jared Leto’s Joker promo picture…

Comparison image of Troll 2 and Suicide Squad

Clockwise from top left: Capture from Troll 2; Jared Leto promo image from Suicide Squad; evil witch from Troll 2; original image from Killing Joke. Say what you want, but I think Leto looks awesome in the equally awesome Suicide Squad trailer.

We’ll see how that all works out, but in the meantime, you might as well sit through Troll 2 a few times. I can guarantee you it never gets boring.

Check out the trailer, right here!

Oculus

Here in One Star Classics you will find analyses of Netflix’s finest movies.

Most One Star Classics recommendations are usually qualified with variations of if, unless, expect, and it actually kinda sucks. This is not the case with Oculus. I don’t entirely remember where One Star Classics Editorial Board read about its awesomeness-ish, but the source was at least semi-credible.

Oculus is part of the recent new-wave of horror movies. Examples of earlier waves would be early-eighties slasher, the mid-nineties teen screams, and the mid-aughties «torture porns». The current crop is usually lower-budget indie films from auteurs who put a lot of emphasis on style and atmosphere. Dario Argento-esque if you like, just less Italian.

It Follows has really been the poster-child of the recent films. It’s a strange, good-looking movie, with a superb-and-a-half soundtrack from Disasterpiece. Oculus, meanwhile, is possibly a good runner-up. It has gotten little exposure compared to It Follows—which has easily achieved broader cult status, and analysis from Quentin Tarantino—but will likely gain some more attention now that it has hit this site is on Netflix. Oculus might look like a recyclable horror movie for anyone who browse through Netflix’s recommendations, but there is a lot more to it than the generic poster-art reveals.

There’s really not one single thing I could point out as being downright flawed here. I mean, maybe the first 20 minutes, but that is all straightened out with a two minute monologue later, so I’m willing to forget about it. The rest is… solid. Like, good workmanship. Acting is professional, the filming is adept, and the story is slick. None of those adjectives are impeccable, I suppose, but add them all up, and you have a movie that is well worth watching. Better than 97% of Netflix in that sense.

Oculus is a haunted mirror movie—people who own the mirror are killed by it and yada, yada, yada—and if I was to compare it to anything, both Poltergeist and the original 1950's Haunting come to mind. The story is sorta predictable, I guess, but a big part of what works are the two mirrored stories. How they join up in the end, and how they are pulled together by some excellent acting from Karen Gillian and Annalise Basso (not to mention Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff)… I mean, it might not be Shakespeare, but Oculus keeps you entertained throughout, all with an uneasy feel to it. Hell, even the ghosts-from-mirrors-past don’t look sterotypical.

Force me to describe the movie with one word, and I’d go with enjoyable. (Which probably says more about me than the movie.)

The only reason I really am writing about the film is that it would be easy to skip on Netflix, and that would just be a little bit sad. Oculus is not a fantastic movie, but it really should be watched, at the very least if you enjoy slow foreboding creepiness. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people will get a career-boost based on their work in Oculus, and good on them. They deserve it. And you, as one of the three people who read this, owe it to yourself and them to watch it, too.

Check out the trailer, right here!

The Blackbird

SpoCOOL, often considered by myself to be Spokane’s finest blog, lives on, right here.

The thing, or rather one of the things, we really like about Blackbird is not so much what it is, but rather what it isn’t. Here they could have opened Manito Tap House, Jr, and they would pretty much have been guaranteed success. Instead we got something just a little bit more high-end, a tiny bit less beer-y, and just vaguely different feeling. Go in knowing it’s Manito’s sibling, and you’ll likely see the resembalence, but those who don’t will rather see a spot with good food, good beer, and a great patio.

We tried the Moroccan lamb special during our visit, and an excellent dish it was. It definitely had the flavor profile of its namesake—plenty of depth through a good mix of spices—yet with just a bit of a… I don’t know… Northwestern twist to it? I’m not entirely sure how to qualify the latter, but I suppose what I’m saying is you can take a look at certain dishes, and you know exactly where it was prepared. (Shut up, it makes sense to me!) And I digress: The lamb was perfectly tender, and the mix of classic flavors and local presentation took me to somewhere halfway from Spokane to Tangier. (Which by my approximation is right in the middle of the Atlantic.)

The Argentine, too, was enjoyable—flank steak cooked perfectly medium-raw with coal-roasted potatoes is a perfect late-summer meal.

Thankfully the beer selection holds parity with what we have come to expect from Manito. During our visit the Abyss '13 was on tap, and hella well had it aged, too. Sampling Avery’s Samael is always fun as a chaser, and with 30-ish taps to choose from, you’d pretty much be a terrorist not to approve of Blackbird’s selection.

(One minus, mind you: The «Manito Head» exists here, too, so make sure your beer has been poured properly.)

With a great view of the downtown skyline and the park, it’s hard to argue with what Blackbird has going for it. It’s the whole upscale-casual thing done well, something I feel the downtown area always needs more of. Thumbs up, then: we’re definitely fans.