The moment I stepped through the door of the bright pink Victorian that houses Purple Tooth, I wanted to like the place. Iggy Pop crooned over the stereo, while the cool, dark interior offered a welcome respite from a sweltering summer evening. Downstairs, the walls are plush with deep eggplant trimmed in gold. Black, low-lying tables, a bench seat strewn with pillows, and zebra-print bar stools make the main room the perfect place to sip wine while canoodling with a date, or to plot world domination over shared bottles of Belgian beer. Owner Kelly Stewart's prior expertise as an event planner for the rich and famous is evident in the immaculately decorated interior. Unfortunately, where the atmosphere has a distinct vision, the menu is distinctly confused.

Despite the name (referring to the color your teeth take on after a few glasses of red wine), Purple Tooth is not much of a wine bar. They have a passable wine list, but more emphasis is placed on cocktails. The house special is the awkwardly named "Purple Nurple," a berry and vodka concoction which can really only be described as tasting... purple. From the "Bites" portion of the menu, a tapenade with pita and a cheese and salami plate were reminiscent of the kind of hors d' oeuvres one would find at a Christmas party, but generously portioned, perfect with a cocktail, and well worth the $3. However, the items' stark presentation fell flat in the lush surroundings. (And the salami, while tasty, was a summer sausage and not the hard salami promised on the menu.) Meanwhile, the artichoke dip was scantly portioned, bland, and oily, while the stuffed mushrooms were simply pesto-filled large white mushroom caps—toasty with bubbling Gorgonzola on top, but tepid and raw on the bottom. As for the entrees, I found them nearly impossible to order. At first attempt (around 5:30 pm) I was told that the oven wasn't turned on yet. When my jack 'n' mac (pepper jack mac and cheese) finally came out, the overcooked noodles were pasty. Any pepper jack flavor was indistinguishable, and while the serving dish was warm, the casserole itself was an unappetizing mix of hot and cold. It is fair to note, however, that the salad accompanying the entree was delicious—a heaping pile of mixed greens, lightly dressed in a sweet and tangy champagne mustard dressing and sprinkled with gorgonzola and hazelnuts.

The menu, I've since discovered, is unpredictable—items offered, and their prices, seem to change daily, while two subsequent attempts to discover the ideal dinner hour proved wholly unsuccessful. (When a place claims to be open "'til late," I find it misleading if I can't order dinner past eight.)

Purple Tooth, though, is a fledgling restaurant in a state of flux, and woefully understaffed (on several visits the owner was the only one working the bar, dining room, and kitchen). They may not be doing it well, but everything they do is done with sincerity, and I can't bring myself to pan a place so earnestly trying to find their niche. On the surface, my visits were rough, but I'd like to think that through that rough surface shone a promise of the neighborhood gem it just might polish up to be.