Monday, July 28, 2014

Glowing in the Southern Summer

A third anniversary may not sound like much, but it is.

I mean, if you make it to the third anniversary of a relationship, you've really accomplished something.

Hell, if you make it to three years, you're ready to move in with that person. Or is that just me?

So how could I not attend Magpie's third anniversary celebration, dubbed "La Urraca," tonight?

I'd been there practically from the beginning - my first visit had been July 30, 2011, here- and no one had wanted a restaurant within walking distance of my house to succeed more than I do.

Correctly expecting a crowd, I arrived early enough to claim my bar stool and settle in for the long haul. Immediately, I ran into a former food writer and local celebrity and we caught up over stories of life as a tall girl and meeting Julia Child. Her, not me, that is.

Then it was time for my evening to begin. I can always count on co-owner Tiffany for groovy wine choices and tonight was no different, with the bio-dynamic Le Chaz Rose winning out as my starter.

I've been to plenty of pop-ups, but you have to give credit to Chef Owen for doing one in his own restaurant. With his usual sense of humor, he'd dubbed it "La Urraca," meaning magpie. Clever.

Before long, familiar faces were everywhere: the birthday boy who's usually behind the bar, the recent transplant I'd met at Amuse's bar, one of the chefs doing the industry takeover tonight, the record store owner just back from tour, the chef and his family, the mixologist and his main squeeze, the long-haired chef I rarely see anymore, the owner in her cute black platform shoes, the pastry chef at one of my favorite restaurants.

Well satisfied with the Latin music (what else?) playing, I eased back on mingling and began diving into the menu.

I'll start with a rhapsody about the braised goat pozole, a symphony of tender meat, tomato broth, hominy, avocado, jalapeno, lime and aioli and a dish with such depth of flavor and beautifully contrasting textures that it deserves to be on the regular menu.

And I'm not just writing that; I went up to the chef and told him myself.

One of the most popular items on the menu was street corn on the cob with butter, cilantro and barbecue spices. One of the bartenders told me he'd suggested calling it "Carver corn" but the chef had nixed that idea pretty quickly.

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the room was full and it was feeling a little warm in there, even in a nothing of a summer dress and for someone like me who prefers warm to cold.

It's the Magpie glow. I know it well.

I'm not complaining; a Latin pop-up should be warm. I'd worn a hot pink, new-to-me ($3) dress and someone told me on the way to the loo that it was the perfect dress for the occasion.

Of the half dozen tacos available, I decided on three: Chorizo with crisp Yukon Gold potatoes, salsa verde, aioli and pickles; beef tongue with roasted chipotle salsa, charred corn, heirloom cherry tomatoes and radish; and pig's head with shishito pepper, pickled vegetables and mustard aioli.

The birthday boy insisted I try his "southern summer," a margarita with Espolon, Solerno, jalapeno shrub and lime with a pickled watermelon garnish.

The nose was entirely jalapeno but then the tequila kicked in and reminded me that I should be drinking Espolon, so I did.

People kept arriving for their reservations and more than a few people without reservations were turned away due to lack of space, so I appreciated how no one at the bar was made to feel rushed despite the waiting hordes.

It was obvious that the wait staff and kitchen staff were having a ball and, in many ways, it felt more like a party than business as usual, especially for a Monday night.

The foursome next to me inquired as to my later plans, and I turned the tables on them, asking theirs. Seems they were on their way to see Supersuckers at Bandito's while I had RVA Big Band at Balliceaux in my sights.

I couldn't help but enjoy myself when the dimpled woman I'd met at Amuse came around to sit next to me, asking what I was drinking.

When I told her Espolon, she responded, "You are a rock star!"

And while we know that's not true, I very much enjoyed our conversation about such fascinating topics as dark bras under light shirts, loose women and younger men and what we'd change about our behavior if someone else paid all the bills.

Meanwhile, the chef who's moving to Grace Street told me how excited he is to get new equipment and not have to deal with back-breaking steps.

By the time I got ready to leave, no one was waiting for my stool and I made sure to congratulate Chef Own on my way out on his accomplishment.

You never know when you begin something how long it'll last. Some relationships last six dates, others six years. Then there's my parents who've done almost six decades.

I've got my fingers crossed that Magpie will still be serving Carver corn and whatever else for years to come.

Happy anniversary, neighbor. Double or nothing?

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