Magnolia's Wine Bar & Bistro is a bit Southern, as its name implies, but not in a fussy or staid way. It's more like a beloved comfortable chair, offering a pleasant place to catch up with a dear friend, as I did recently, while enjoying some terrific wine and interesting food.
Part of the Village Fine Wine and Cigar shop at the Village Shopping Center, Magnolia's has more than 75 wines available for tasting — in a 3-ounce portion, a 6-ounce portion or by the bottle — and all of them are available for purchase at the store. (They offer a 10 percent discount off any wine you taste within seven days of that initial purchase.) Magnolia's also has a large selection of beer (68 labels), with a dozen world-class, 25-ounce Belgian ales. The restaurant's bar runs nearly the full length of one side of the space, with tables and chairs opposite and at one end. You'll also find a small patio with a handful of tables that occupies the breezeway bisecting the shopping center.
Sometimes less is more, which is why I liked Magnolia's tasting menu of small plates that are more than tapas but less than an entrée. You can order two or three, share with someone else and dine well. Each comes with a wine recommendation, but we found that our friendly server, well-versed in both the food and the wine, made good suggestions based on our personal preferences and didn't oversell anything.
We started with a cheese platter. Based on our server's recommendation, we ordered the single portion — six different choices arranged on a small, white rectangular platter that included a piquant blue cheese; several hard cheeses like manchego and Comté; a mild, creamy goat cheese; a semisoft cheese with veins of ash; and another strongly flavored soft cheese.
We followed that up with a shared salad of mixed greens, dressed in a citrus vinaigrette with undertones of both orange and lemon — a bit sweet, but very refreshing. The salad was paired with a goat-cheese fritter; crisp on the outside, it was meltingly creamy on the inside.
Thanks to offerings ranging from Maine lobster to locally raised (in Conicsville) ostrich, choosing from the tasting menu was a difficult proposition. We opted for the cocktail lamb chops and the seafood paella.
Two rosy pink lamb chops arrived atop a round of braised spinach, which was accompanied by yellow lentils. Drizzled over everything was a merlot-and-Mission-fig sauce, which, again, I found a bit too sweet, but the lamb chops were very tender and moist, and the spinach was excellent. Less successful was the seafood paella. One large scallop, a large shrimp and a thumb-sized portion of swordfish were artfully arranged around a dome of saffron rice laced with small amounts of andouille sausage, diced red peppers and onions. It was too oily and lacked the kick I expected, though the seafood was perfectly cooked.
Since we were taking our time, we ordered the dessert trio — a plate with chocolate pâté, bananas-Foster cheesecake and a Key-lime tart. (Choose the three desserts you want from the full dessert menu.) The chocolate pâté was dark and dense but overly sweet. My friend enjoyed the bananas-Foster cheesecake, with its undercurrents of brown sugar and rum, while I preferred the double-decker Key-lime tart's topping of grapefruit and orange sections, although it could have had more lime zing. The presentation was delightful, with thin butterfly- and dolphin-shaped butter cookies accenting the sweets.
A return visit for lunch was equally relaxing. Again, my friend and I decided to share, and she chose the Black Stone Virginia Goat Cheese and Country Ham Salad with candied pecans and slices of pear, all served over mixed greens and topped with a blackberry vinaigrette. The combination of flavors and textures — creamy, salty, sweet and crunchy — worked well. I went with the Grilled Veggie Focaccia Split, featuring a rich filling of squash, onions, mushrooms and peppers with gooey Brie cheese holding it all together. The focaccia was warm, soft and laden with herbs — one of the best I've had in Richmond.
With comfort food all the rage these days, Magnolia's is a nice respite. Allow time for your visit and enjoy the ambiance along with a glass — or two — of wine.
7021 Three Chopt Road, 673-9463
Salads and sandwiches $8 to $15. Small plates $8 to $15 (an entrée portion is double the size for an additional $10). Desserts $5 to $12.
Open Tuesday to Sunday, beginning at 11 a.m., with lunch served Tuesday to Saturday, starting at 11 a.m.; dinner served Tuesday to Sunday, starting at 5 p.m.; and brunch served Sundays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.