Ah, yes, Taco Bueno buildings. Such distinct architecture, so difficult to mask. But dammit if Habip Kargin, chef and owner of Pera Wine and Tapas, hasn't tried. This particular former Taco Bueno, near the corner of Belt Line and Preston, has been reincarnated several times over the years. It's been a fish fry, two burger joints and now, having reached enlightenment, a tapas bar.
Pera Wine and Tapas is the second restaurant-child for Kargin, who opened Pera Turkish Kitchen in 2012. The white-washed stucco façade is not enough to conceal the building's roots, but once inside it's easy to forget about the sour cream guns. They've exorcised the ghosts of Crunchwrap Supremes. They've used warm neutrals, dark walls and white tablecloths to transform a once corporate and sterile environment into an intimate and inviting one. The interior retains an open layout, with a long rectangular bar stretching from the entrance back to the kitchen, which is tucked from view.
Wining and dining on the patio, which faces Belt Line, represents a departure in ambience. While the staff has worked to keep the elements at bay, twinkly lights and potted plants can't quite distract from the surrounding scenery of cars zipping by and the office park across the street. The window dressings can't distract, no, but the food and booze can.
Pera has a nice selection of wines to choose from, most of which can be purchased by the glass -- prices range from $5 to $13 -- or by the bottle, which could set you back as little as $16 or as much as $300.
The single-page food menu is divided in half by price, either $6 or $12 per plate. Remember that the idea behind tapas contradicts the American ethos -- "if that chicken fried steak doesn't completely encompass my hubcap of a plate, I'm taking my business elsewhere" -- by encouraging small portions of different dishes.
The less expensive options slant towards vegetarian, including white asparagus with poached egg, tomato burrata salad and grilled eggplant caviar. My dining companion and I agreed that the octopus carpaccio, also $6, was the best seafood that can suck you back we had ever eaten, so tender and mild. It was topped with arugula, capers and shreds of fennel, all tossed together in a bracingly acidic vinaigrette. We're talking a four to one acid/oil ratio, people.
The $12 plates offer diners a veritable zoo to order from, including filet mignon, Cornish hen, lamb chop, sea bass and short ribs. The seared quail with pomegranate molasses and a parsnip puree was life-affirming.
On a recent Thursday evening, the crowd was small in number but strong enough in annual adjusted gross income to really do a number on an Ann Taylor sale. Troy Dungan was even there. If that's not a ringing endorsement for a new restaurant I don't know what is.
Pera Wine & Tapas
6006 Belt Line Rd.