Perkeo Wine Bistro sits in the recently abandoned Market Street storefront which famously housed Deluxe for so many years. The coveted downtown location has been an eagerly anticipated reopening in the Wilmington foodie community. The results, however, could not be less definitive.
For those wondering from whence the name Perkeo derives, there’s a lovely little story, culled from Wikipedia, about a Heidelberg jester who went by that name. Rumored to have drank nothing but wine his whole life ‘til a doctor ordered him to drink nothing but water, as the story goes, he died the very next day. (And if Rand Paul is reading this, it’s OK to quote Wikipedia as long as you give credit for it—the good folks at Perkeo did.)
The space itself is still quite recognizable. Some changes, like the new bar top, seem more jolting only because the place has changed little otherwise. I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of the paint job, which appears to be a brighter UNCW Seahawk teal. The minimalist approach to art on the walls gets limited to a single, albeit lovely, water feature yet, it isn’t my favorite look. But the room is well-maintained and attractive in its own right, even if not to my particular tastes.
I had some other aesthetic objections. This may seem silly to some, but the glassware irked me. I had two glasses of sparkling wine: The first came in a champagne flat, which makes me cringe. Sparkling wine can’t maintain carbonation for long in those glasses. The second came in a stemless flute. I’m OK with the stemless wine-glass craze, but something about doing it to a flute just makes the glass look like a beaker in a laboratory. It just hits my eye wrong every time.
Opening with a sesame-crusted ahi tuna appetizer, served on cucumber and crostini with a Sriracha cream sauce and a touch of cilantro, the tuna had a perfect sear. I tend to think the sesame seeds on seared tuna can often be overdone, but Perkeo’s attempt was well in line with the norm. I wasn’t enamored by the Sriracha cream at first; it tasted a little bland. However, I did notice my mouth warming after a few bites. The red pepper’s potency came more than I initially realized. I quickly realized the problem with the sauce came in its application. Its heavy-handed use made the dish messier than how I prefer my tapas. The pressure from the first bite forced the mayonnaise through the tiny holes in a bread-like Play-Doh spaghetti. A gentler hand might be in order, especially since too much sauce disrupted the texture of the soft flesh of the fish.
Moving on to the lamb lollipop was a treat. Perkeo’s chef cooked it with an excellent rare sear, and the hints of pepper on the meat brought out the natural fatty flavor. Of the three sauces served with the appetizer, far and away the best was the chimichurri. The barbecue sauce suffered from a too-watery effect and the lamb wasn’t spicy enough to justify a cucumber-dill sauce as a cooling agent. But the Argentinian sauce, with hints of paprika and a hearty dose of lemon, made the meat “pop” in a way the others couldn’t.
I opted for the NY strip entrée, served with Gorgonzola field greens and hand-cut fries. It tasted like a mistake. Though the steak was once again a perfect rare, it came criminally under-seasoned, with no discernible flavors beyond the beef. The fries, though hand-cut as promised, also bore no distinguishing flavors. Amusingly enough, I’m not the biggest fan of Gorgonzola, so the mild cheese dressing on the field greens actually upped the dish in my book. But true lovers of stinky cheese likely will be disappointed.
Perkeo redeemed itself with nice showing on dessert. Though bummed to find they only offered one option (can I call it an “option” if there’s only one?), the well-balanced apple empanada had a sugary tartness to the fruit. The flaky fried crust came with modest notes of cinnamon to make it an excellent cold-weather dessert.
Also, Perkeo seemingly does an interesting twist on Sunday brunch: They serve it with a side of drag show. Though, I haven’t tried it, from what I understand, their Drag Brunch offers two seatings, at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., every other Sunday. Local drag queens pepper in boisterous entertainment with out-of-town visitors between bites of eggs Benedict and French toast. It sounds much more entertaining than a mere guitar instrumentalist parked on a bar stool as seen at other establishments.
Essentially Perkeo tasted like a first-draft assignment turned in by a well-intentioned student who is yet aware of what’s expected of him. The elements are there, but the finished product isn’t. This is an establishment I hope to revisit once a month or so to see what evolution takes place. Its flexible menu gives me hope for the restaurant’s future. Printed on card stock, with no plastic to protect it from hapless staff or messy diners, the menus themselves aren’t intended to last long. Mine had a couple of bends and smudges to suggest it wasn’t quite virginal when I arrived. I take this as a sign that we can expect an ever-evolving menu based on available ingredients, seasonal tastes, and the whims of the chef. Or, it’s possible no one remembered to buy plastic covers. But I’m optimistic.DETAILS: Perkeo Wine Bistro 114 Market St. Wed. – Thurs.: 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. - Fri. – Sat.: 5 p.m. – 11 p.m. Sun.: noon – 6 p.m. (910) 769-3338 www.perkeowine.com