Perk’s Fine Cuisine, 553 Manhattan Avenue stands boldly at the corner of one hundred and twenty-third Street and Manhattan Avenue in Harlem; a deep, dark, dusky-rose jewel of a building; set forth like a citadel of hope and possibility in the midst of dilapidated tenements and weary brownstones.
As you walk under the canopied entrance into a mirrored foyer and are led by hostess Ebon Richard down the two steps to the sunken main dining room, you experience a split second flash of culture shock as your senses adjust to the world of understated elegance that Hank Perkins and his daughter Nikki have created. The rose-colored hue of the building’s exterior is repeated indoors, but now it is softer, subdued, hushed, intimate. From the gilded framed mirrors hung along the walls to the soft jazz from unseen speakers—all is restrained elegance.
Perk’s Fine Cuisine’s menu offers a choice of nine appetizers from a basic salad of mixed lettuces, priced a $3.00 to jumbo fried shrimp with tomatoes and basil at $6.00. My choice was a spicy, creamy seafood bisque with lumps of fresh crab meat and diced potatoes which was offered at $2.00 a cup and $4.00 a bowl. The bisque which was highly recommended by our gracious and attentive waitress, Pam Franklin, was indeed chock full of fresh, tender crab meat and spicy as promised, but not overpowering. My companion’s choice of appetizer was a lobster and chicken salad. An excellent choice, I know, because after | polished off my bisque, I couldn’t keep my fork out of his plate. The marriage of succulent strips of chicken and lobster tossed in a delicately light dill and chive dressing was a new and pleasant experience for my palate. The entrées are your basic offerings of lamb, pork, beef chicken and seafood. I would have liked to have seen a greater number of seafood dishes.
I ordered the Maryland crab cakes at $16.00 and my dinner partner ordered filet Mignon at $19.50. The meat dishes are at the high end of the price range which starts at $10.50 for Cajun fried chicken with buttered biscuit and fresh corn succotash, I must commend the chef, Michael Lawrence, on his conscientiousness in choosing only the finest, freshest seafood. The crab cakes, solid crab meat and not a lot of filler, rested in a light lemon herb butter sauce. They were served with pureed sweet potatoes and fresh broccoli, which was well-cooked but still firm. | found the puréed potatoes somewhat bland and the crab cakes and broccoli a bit on the salty side. My companion also found his grilled potatoes over salted. Also, the filet Mignon, ordered medium rare, came medium. The chef apparently knows how to bring life to what could have been a very pedestrian menu but could pull back a little with the salt shaker.
My dining companion chose two excellent wines for us from Perk’s list of superb wines: a Sauvignon blanc for me and a rich, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon to complement his steak.
The dessert choices, priced from $4.00 to $5.00, caused my sweet tooth to leap and quiver with delight. Our selections were the bread pudding served in a rum sauce—as good a bread pudding as my mother makes, and she makes the best—and pecan pie with whipped cream laced with honey. I’m not a pecan pie lover but my friend enjoyed it. Of course, we were both so full by the end of the meal, we wound up taking a good portion of our desserts home for a midnight snack. I would have liked to have finished the evening with a cup of peppermint tea and my fellow diner wanted espresso, neither of which was offered on the menu.
Perk’s Fine Cuisine which opened July 1, 1991, is an elegant, well-run restaurant and supper club that has already attracted a trendy, upscale clientele as well as neighborhood folk who appreciate quality and don’t always feel like going downtown for it. If you’re looking for a romantic spot for supper with that significant other, an impressive restaurant for an important business dinner or someplace chic in Harlem to show off to an out-of-town visitor — Perk’s is the place!
For further information and reservations call Nikki Perkins at (212) 666-8500.
See the complete issue of Routes, A Guide to Black Entertainment September 9, 1991 as PDF.