The Magpie

I'm literally licking crème anglaise from my fingers right now, a delightful activity that does, however, put a crimp in my typing plans. I mean, when leftover crème anglaise is just loitering near me, I can't simply ignore it. Hold up, lemme finish....

Ok, there to here and perhaps back again.

As I walked back to my hotel after today's final session, I began contemplating dinner. I didn't eat much in the way of lunch and was eager to sample more of what seems to be an exciting, serious food scene here in Richmond. A woman I sat next to gave me a few recommendations, and in reviewing those online I came across The Magpie, a gastropub in the Carver neighborhood which is, incidentally, also where The Black Sheep resides.

It struck my fancy, so I made an early reservation and wandered over after a bit of work. This not being on a schedule dictated by others is really excellent, just downright liberating I tell you. The Magpie sits in an old, smallish, green-painted house on the corner of West Leigh and Norton streets, and I liked it the moment I approached. The ever-present restaurant chalkboard stood out front, boasting today's specials, while large windows allowed passersby a peek inside. Surely few can resist stopping, as the warmth and sense of The Magpie being a beloved neighborhood joint are palpable.

To my delight, I procured an end seat at the L-shaped bar; four others were filled with birthday revelers and the few empty stools that remained meant elbow room and more personal attention from the terrific bartender (he looked like a chill Louis CK) for us all. Behind me, against the wall, ran a red velvet banquette whose top ran up and down like the lines of a royal crown or the waves at high tide. The Magpie is an intimate place but not hushed or austere. It's comfortable, confident and happy, the sort of place at which I'd love to be a regular.

While I usually start with wine, the cocktail list sang to me like a siren, and I ordered a Mrs. Robinson, a crisp concoction of Tito's vodka, St. Germain, fresh muddled strawberries and rosewater. This was a perfect refresher, the sort that goes down too easy and you hope you can recreate at home.


I quickly chose the Manchego arancini with pea shoots and fig compote as well as the charred asparagus with mushrooms, cipollini cream and Manchego crumbs to go alongside, and though I felt I'd perish when Louis said they were out of the ricotta agnolotti with pinenut butter, I recovered and made do with the smoked hangar steak with asparagus, fingerlings, charred red onions and mustard aioli.

People, it should not be legal to eat like this on a last-minute whim. Or, perhaps, it should be more common. Had I not been in a formal dining establishment, read: in public, I would have licked those plates clean. The arancini were spiked with bits of rosemary and were so greaseless that I was certain they'd invented some sort of higher heat-no burn fry method. Each bite was an inner "holy shit" revelation that made me offer thanks. Likewise for the asparagus which were preternaturally flavorful. The cipollini cream was the stuff of dreams and the Manchego crumbs just gilded the lily. Holy shit crossed my mind again. And again.

By the time my hangar steak arrived, I'd ordered a lovely glass of Pinot and was starting to wonder if I really needed an entree. But, like a ruminant whose multiple stomachs allow him to forage on, I persevered and ate damn near all that steak and accompanying fingerling potato rounds (literally perfect rounds), asparagus and onions. The aioli was a tad sweet for my taste, but the steak had a gorgeous, pungent shellac of smoky caramelization, and I was terribly impressed by those damn potato rounds.

I do believe the waitstaff was impressed by my appetite and follow through, even more so when I said, "Yes I would like to hear the dessert options," and then, "yes I will take the chocolate caramel tart to go." Who, WHO, can pass up homemade shortbread topped with chocolate caramel sprinkled with toasted coconut and adorned with dollops of the aforementioned, finger-licking crème anglaise? Not I, friends, not I.

Back in my hotel room, I donned PJs, called T and then tucked right into my treat. I find myself rapidly fading at this point, sated in ways both physical and intellectual, grateful for this room of my own for 48 hours. A good and deep exhale!