Saturday, July 30, 2011

She Covets Antelope

As exciting as all the new restaurant openings have been, it's doubly so when the restaurant is in my neighborhood.

Such was the case at the Magpie, a charming place in Carver and a short walk from my house. I knew one of the owners from my forays out (Stronghill and Bacchus) and, even closer to home, from census taking in Jackson Ward.

The last time I'd set foot in that space, it was the Leigh Street Grill and my friend and I had scarfed down some most excellent chicken and waffles.

Today, I found a turn-of-the-century style restaurant with a pressed tin ceiling, an elaborate red velvet settee and one of the most eclectic art collections I've seen, with lithographs, oils, local art and etchings.

On the stereo was Pandora tuned to a classic rock station. Except for the occasional misstep ("Rock Me Like a Hurricane"?) it was straight on with The Who, Beatles, Rolling Stones and the like. Scorpions need not apply.

Pale green walls had a faux-marble finish and the dark wood everywhere was quite striking against it.

The menu had so many interesting choices that I labored over it while trying to decide. Wine was easy; I chose the Thurston Wolfe Lemberger Rose and was quite satisfied with its peppery dark fruit.

One stool away was a familiar restaurant face obviously enjoying his meal, so I solicited his opinion on what to order.

He had high praise for the grilled housemade sausage, so I stored that information for the future and ordered instead the local heirloom tomato salad with basil and Mozzarella ice cream.

It's hard to go wrong with a Caprese salad at this time of year, but this one had an ace in the hole.

The beautiful heirlooms tasted of summer, but it was that Mozzarella ice cream that will be the topic on the lips of everyone who orders this dish.

Its sweetness, the creamy texture and, yes, the cold of the ice cream made for a truly memorable tomato dish, a variation on the classic sweet and salty.

As a side note, it has romantic origins. The chef created it for his vegetarian girlfriend who eats a Caprese salad anytime she sees it on a menu.

The small bar lends itself to being a community space and, at least tonight, there was much shared conversation and offering of shared wine among us.

Just as I was getting more rose, a familiar restaurateur came in with a friend and they added more lively voices to the group.

For my next course, I had the braised Wagyu beef tongue ravioli, made with Dave and Dee's oyster mushrooms over an asparagus puree with grilled white corn kernels.

The earthiness of the tongue complemented the elegant taste of the asparagus and the niblets of corn gave a nice crunch to an otherwise creamy dish. Well done.

The chef stopped by to ask how I'd liked my food and I shared my thoughts. I put in a plug for seeing the seared antelope with drunken blackberry sauce on the small plate menu so people like me could try it.

I briefly considered the small chocolate milkshake with peanut butter cookies on the dessert menu, but opted for a half a pink instead.

But one of my fellow bar sitters had it and the look on his face said it all.

Before long, I expect to see the same slow drivers I usually encounter in front of Black Sheep in front of the Magpie.

We neighbors call it the "Carver cruise" and it's where those unfamiliar or unsure of the neighborhood drive by the restaurant v-e-r-y slowly and usually repeatedly before letting out the womenfolk directly in front of the restaurant and then doing the manly thing by parking the car.

I'll be walking over, so none of that affects me as long as they leave a stool open for me at the new neighborhood joint.

After dinner, I was meeting a friend and his new girlfriend at Balliceaux.

They weren't yet there, so I found a barstool, ordered a Hornitos and struck up a conversation with the guy sitting next to me.

It was fate; he's living in NYC and considering a move down here and if anyone relishes the challenge of convincing someone what a great town this is, it's yours truly.

Over the course of the next hour or so, I learned that he was into art, music and restaurants (and iPod apps, but I was willing to overlook that), so we found loads to talk about.

He's decided that rather than build the new Institute for Contemporary Art at Belvidere and Broad, it should be an Institute of Contemporary Cuisine.

I say why not both?

When he finally left to meet a friend at Selba (after soliciting my opinion on it), I moved to the back bar where Amazing Ghost was to play.

Tonight's show had been billed as "Christmas in July" and when I walked back there, the DJ was playing music from Vince Guaraldi's  "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

It may be the first time I'd heard that song in July, but it wasn't completely unwelcome, either. My favorite server had already warned me that he'd be playing an inappropriate Santa in the shortest possible shorts.

I found a musician friend with whom to discuss over-produced sophomore albums (Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, in his opinion) as the crowd around us continued to grow.

Finally my friend showed up and we moved back up front so I could met his beloved and be able to talk about what she could do in Richmond (telling me that, "I've told her so much about you that she thought you were multiple people").

Are we noticing a pattern here?

But of course, I do think there are myriad reasons to stay in Richmond, so we spent several hours drinking and talking about all the things they need to see and do.

The fact is, I'd met this friend when he moved back here and became a regular reader of my blog.

He was always leaving comments, amazed at an activity or food or something he hadn't known was in Richmond until he read my posts.

I don't look like a cheerleader, but maybe that's my lot in life, at least for the moment. It's not like I don't have the time to do it.

On the other hand, I did come home to two phone messages and an e-mail from a friend who's in DC on business.

They all said essentially the same thing, although the voice mails used a fevered voice to convey the message.

"Brace yourself. I met the man of your dreams in DC. You need to meet this guy! It's all arranged. Can you be up here Tuesday night?"

Surely I need to be selling someone on how great Richmond is that night.


  1. I wouldn't want to be thought of as a tease, so here's the full story.