You'd be surprised how nicely the restaurant crowd cleans up.
This year's Elbys were wisely held at the VMFA after last year's inaugural event all but exploded out of the Virginia Historical Society.
Richmond Magazine's award ceremony honors the local restaurant scene with food, bevvies and awards for the nine best and the top culinary student of the year.
Walking in to the ceremony past a white stretch limo, I saw familiar faces from my favorite and less favorite restaurants.
That's one great thing about this event, seeing so many restaurant people all in the same place.
It would take me weeks to see so many of these people if I had to go restaurant to restaurant to do it, which I usually do.
Once in the Cheek Theater, there were even more people I knew, but before mingling, I grabbed a seat in the front of the middle section so I'd have a good view.
Roosevelt bartender T. strolled by on the way to sitting with his posse, observed my outstretched legs and noted drolly, "Center stage. Of course."
Fact is, a single can always find a good seat even when things are getting full.
I was pleased to run into some food-loving friends whose relationship with me began over pork belly back in June 2010, before pork belly was as ubiquitous on local menus as facial hair at a Gallery 5 show.
Our hosts for the evening were Richmond Magazine's food editor (saying she'd just had skate for teh first time the other night!) and the Modern Gentleman, Jason Tesauro.
Jason began with mock self-deprecation, noting, "I'm Jason Tesauro. If you don't know me, you can Google me. Go ahead, I'll wait."
He immediately quoted Comfort/Pasture's Jason Alley, whose pronouncement, "Just being here is really f*cking cool," was a sentiment I heard repeated throughout the evening.
After recognizing the culinary student of the year, we moved on to the meat of the matter.
Fine dining was first and Lemaire took the award.
After thanking the staff, Chef Walter Bundy said, "We won last year, so we didn't expect to win again. And we're trying not to be so fine dining," to much laughter.
For upscale casual, defined as great food where you can wear jeans, Stella's took the prize, with the diminutive Stella herself saying a few words about being supported so well over the years.
Kuba Kuba won for neighborhood restaurant, notable because the always casual Manny wore a suit to accept and say, "I'd like to thank Kevin Walter, the best dishwasher anyone could have."
By now it was apparent that every time a winner was announced, a classic '80s song was played.
Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," Talking Heads "Once in a Lifetime," Blondie "Rapture."
If you won, you walked to the stage to music from the decade whose music is more loved now than then.
Deco won for new restaurant and owner Giuseppe was on and gone, thanking everyone who supported the restaurant and his family before hurrying off.
When the Roosevelt's bartender T. won for best cocktail program, cheers and applause abounded for the genial gentleman with the twinkle in his eye.
Onstage, his voice quavered a bit at first, but I knew he was ready.
I'd seen him on the way in and asked if he had a speech ready just in case and he'd replied in the affirmative.
Better not to risk it, just in case you get lucky.
The excellence in service award went to Wendy at Bistro Bobette, about whom Jason said, "She's got the polish in place and the edge. She's got a New York accent and a French husband."
She looked beautifully polished in her fitted dress and even remembered to thank that husband.
Reading the nominees for rising culinary star, Jason read the Berkely's Carly's name and said, "Julia said Carly is easily the most potty-mouthed chef in Richmond. And that's coming from Julia Battaligni!"
It was funny because the owner of Secco can be a very literate potty mouth herself.
When they called Belmont Food Shop's Mike as the rising winner, a woman clearly not Mike rose and made her way to the stage.
Explaining that, "Mike isn't here, he's cooking at the restaurant and if you know him it won't surprise you that he called me an hour ago to ask me to go for him," she was back in her seat in a flash.
To be fair, the man's got a restaurant that seats, what, 20? There's not a lot of wiggle room when it comes to making his weekly numbers.
Chef of the year went to Dale of Acacia who seemed surprised. "I didn't think this would happen again. I just want to be a rising culinary star. I'm an old fashioned guy. I don't tweet or Facebook, but I do care about what I do."
When restaurateur of the year was announced as Kendra of Ipanema/Garnett's/Roosevelt and "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" began playing, Jason observed, "We should be playing her punk rock tracks."
Wouldn't that have been fitting?
The former punk rocker waitress' speech was heartfelt and humorous.
Saying, "When I started Ipanema in 1998, I thought as long as I didn't snort cocaine or sleep with my wait staff, I'd do okay."
Much knowing laughter.
She mentioned how supportive Johnny Giavos and Manny Mendez had been in answering her questions in the beginning, imploring the industry audience to "cut the new kids some slack."
Generously, she did shout-outs to her longtime friend and Ipanema manager, her crack Garnett's staff and Chef Lee at the Roosevelt for agreeing to be her partner.
More laughter followed when she said she'd been told that she'd succeed in the business because of her nice breasts and great attitude.
"And thanks to my husband John. For those of you who know me, my life has gotten 100% better since I met him."
Who knows, maybe he married her for the same reasons her restaurants were going to succeed (see above).
After the white-knuckling part of the evening was past, we moved upstairs to the marble hall to eat, drink and be merry.
It's always a blast to see so many people I usually see spread out, but as I made my way around the room, certain feelings kept being repeated.
Everyone is stoked to be part of the wave of Richmond restaurants as it builds.
Many people raved about the sense of community in the room.
The consensus is that our food scene is exploding and that's good for everyone.
The marble hall was packed with 400 guests (so I was told by a VMFA staffer), making the normally-chilly room perfectly comfortable for me and, by default, quite warm for most.
It wasn't long before many of the women in the impossibly high heels removed them and carried them rather than suffer any longer.
As I walked around, searching out wine (Mulderbosch Rose), food (rabbit meatball over mashed parsnips, black bean cake with salsa verde, pork over collards) made by the culinary students and familiar faces, there was a real sense of camaraderie in the room.
Rapphannock River Oyster company was there with Olde Salts and Rapphannocks for the taking (I took many).
I saw Merroir's chef, Pete, and we chatted about my devotion to his riverside tasting room.
Olli was there with charcuterie and, after tasting all eight varieties, I'd have to say my favorite was the Napoli.
Maybe it was the Sangiovese in it.
As I made another pass around the room, a guy called me over to compliment my tights, not the first time tonight that I'd heard something along those lines, before introducing me to his blogger girlfriend.
First wine ran out, then beer and people were reduced to working off their existing buzz.
Music came courtesy of my neighborhood record store, Steady Sounds, and DJ Marty eventually got restaurant people dancing up a storm over by the 20th century galleries.
Likely Andy Warhol would have approved.
And probably agreed that just being there was f*cking cool.