Spain. Long, sunny days, even longer, happening nights. Mid-afternoon lunches,
followed by dramatic sunsets and no dinner in sight until midnight.
How do the Spanish do it? How do they survive without food until 12 a.m.? Tapas.
Sharing small plates and washing the food down with sangria has always been a
favorite summer activity of mine: Tapas give you the freedom of ordering many
different dishes and you can try new foods without being stuck with a plateful of
something you don’t like too much.
A new restaurant in downtown Naples offers the flavors of old Spain with
the sophistication and flair of a modern, multicultural city: I.M. Tapas.
Located on Fourth Avenue North, the restaurant’s tinted windows give nothing
away, creating an aura of mystery as you approach the front door. There are
no tables outside and the only sign of life on the sidewalk is the neon “Open”
sign shining under the awning .
Once we walk inside, however, we’re stunned. If the outside looked a little cold
and colorless, the inside looks like a combination of a modern art gallery and chic,
European restaurant. The only American accent is the big, wooden bar running
along side most of the left section of the dining room. On this night, I.M. Tapas
is not empty or packed, probably because 8:15 p.m. is late by Naples’ standards
— even on a Saturday night.
The almost all-girl staff amiably welcomes us at the door, settling us in at a nice table with a little breathing room. The walls are painted a warm shade of yellow and the minimalist style of furniture gives away such a chic, European vibe I start feeling that this might very well be the real thing.
The menu offerings are copious and range from the very traditional to the well-out-of-the-box. A quick look at the soups makes me yearn for some gazpacho ($4.95), the traditional Spanish tomato and cucumber chilled soup, but I decide to go for the cold cut platter of Serrano ham, chorizo and lomo ($20) with two glasses of home-made sangria ($8 each).
When the dish arrives, we suddenly understand why the price was so high: There is enough meat to feed four on the big, white square serving plate. Both the Serrano ham, the Spanish version of Italian prosciutto, and the loin are as tasty and fresh as you would expect them to be in a restaurant in Seville or Madrid. Drizzled with a few drops of olive oil, they are so good we can’t stop stuffing our faces. The fresh chorizo — which is completely different from the dry kind you find in grocery stores and Mexican restaurants — is even better with a more silky texture and delicate flavor. The bread keeps coming, always warm and fragrant, and the dining room slowly fills up.
Apparently, even in Naples, people who love tapas also embrace the Spanish philosophy of dining late. More than satisfied with our starter, we browse the menu again, sipping sangria packed with apples and peaches. Although we noticed a made-to-order paella ($25-$35 per person), we opt for more tapas. The variety of dishes offered makes it
difficult to choose: the seafood section is extensive and offers Spanish classics such as
bacalao (salted cod fish) and langostinos (prawns in garlic), as well as scallops and tuna.
As lovely as all of this sounded, when I see the duck breast glazed with port and figs
($15), I can’t resist it. We also order the beef tenderloin with blue cheese and
caramelized onions ($15.50).
All the tapas are prepared to order, explained our waitress, so it usually takes at least
10 minutes to get your food. We’re in no hurry. I.M. Tapas is cozy and romantic, the perfect
spot for a date whether it’s your first or your 10-year anniversary.
The duck, which is sweeter and more delicate than the beef, is appropriately served first. The presentation is perfect: Slices of duck cooked medium rare, drizzled with a thick port wine sauce and accompanied by figs, are tidily arranged on a small, rectangular plate. After one bite I wished that the portion was bigger, which is a familiar feeling for tapas lovers. The dark sweetness of the figs and the robust flavor of the port compliment the duck breast, and the meat is so tender it almost melts in your mouth.
The beef tenderloin arrives shortly after we’re done with the duck and is no less delicious. Small, thick slices of filet mignon share the plate with a small mound of caramelized onions and a dollop of blue cheese. We fall in love with the sweet and salty combo of tender onions and tangy cheese.
As we finish our third dish, our waitress tempts us with one of my favorite desserts: crema Catalana ($7). A Spanish version of the more popular crème brulée, this treat is worth ordering. It’s soft and sweet on the bottom, crunchy and bittersweet on top.
Good atmosphere, a knowledgeable and friendly staff, incredible ingredients and a gifted chef make I.M. Tapas a wonderful new spot in town. If you’re in the mood for something new and are craving masterfully prepared food, this small gem won’t disappoint you.
Cuisine: Spanish and tapas
Service: Attentive, competent and friendly
Atmosphere: Romantic and sophisticated
Noise and light levels: Never too noisy and pleasantly dimly lit
Prices: Tapas range from $8 to $20, specialty dishes, such as paella from $25 to $35
Value: Good value considering the freshness of ingredients and the variety of options
Verdict: Chic and romantic, I.M. Tapas is a great spot for people who enjoy traditional and creative Spanish food in a sophisticated atmosphere.
How is it that I’m still met with blank looks by so many people when I mention IM
Tapas? The distinguished Spanish small-plate restaurant has been serving
exceptional food and intriguing wines a stone’s throw from U.S. 41 for more than
It’s one of the places Emeril Lagasse chose to dine when he was here for last year’s
Naples Winter Wine Festival. And it’s one of my favorite places to dine in a city that
has no shortage of excellent food.
The problem, if you want to call it that, might be that it’s on Fourth Avenue North, just far enough removed from the high visibility of the downtown dining scene to go unnoticed. That slightly out-of-the-way location has a plus side: You almost never have to circle the block searching for a parking spot.
When we headed there for dinner recently, we parked just feet from the door and waltzed in for a superb dinner — without reservations (although making them is a good idea, especially during the winter season).
Large scallops sit atop tender strips of octopus, then are topped with an intensely flavored citrus vinaigrette and blood orange infused oil.
The smartly appointed dining room is long and angular, the walls painted a soothing golden yellow and adorned with enough art to keep the room from looking barren without stealing attention from the food. A few pieces are the creations of co-owner and executive chef, Isabel Pozo Polo — the “I” in IM Tapas. On most nights, she’s joined in the kitchen by partner Mary Shipman (the “M”), but we happened to visit on a night when Ms. Shipman was called away on a family matter.
Although dishes came out a bit more slowly than normal, everything was still painstakingly prepared and plated. The biggest drawback to the kitchen help shortage was that Ms. Pozo Polo wasn’t able to spend as much time in the dining room with guests as she normally does. She did pop out a few times, however, to greet new arrivals, hug regulars and give newcomers her customary warm welcome.
From a list of well-chosen Spanish wines, we ordered a bottle of Paco & Lola albarino, which arrived perfectly chilled. It was refreshingly fruity but not sweet, with notes of green apple and orange, and was delicious on its own as well as with food.
It’s hard to know just how many dishes to order here, so I recommend starting with three or four to share then ordering more if you still have room. Dishes come out as they are ready, which makes it best to share so that no one at the table has to watch the rest of the group dine. One way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to try one of the exceptional artisanal cheese plates (five cheeses for $30, eight for $40). We didn’t have one this time, but it was a highlight of a previous trip and I watched enviously as a nearby party of six polished one off.
Each of the dishes we ordered looked lovely, was appropriately cold or hot and consisted of impeccably fresh, vibrant ingredients. Ms. Polo Pozo has an innate sense of balance, crafting gorgeous, intensely flavored dishes.
Here’s a look at our culinary adventure:
Beets Napoleon ($12): A vertically constructed salad composed of sliced roasted beets, Catalunyan Capri chevre, lardons (crisp, salty bits of pork fatback), toasted pine nuts and balsamic reduction.
White anchovies ($8): If you’ve never had a fresh anchovy, you haven’t had anchovies. These were tender, delicate in flavor and bathed in garlic. A simple, delicious presentation.
Chorizo in cider ($9): Sliced chorizo sausage and onions gently simmered in apple cider make for a satisfying dish that’s salty and slightly sweet.
Blackfin tuna tartare ($17): One of the nightly specials, it featured tender bits of tuna studded with crunchy pomegranate seeds in a lightly savory sauce paired with microgreens and pomegranate air, a light pink foam with pomegranate essence.
Spinach wilted a la Catalana ($10): A mound of barely-steamed organic spinach came studded with shallots, dried cherries, pine nuts and a sprinkling of sea salt.
Diver scallops on octopus slivers ($19): Two plump scallops, seasoned and sautéed to perfection, sat on strips of tender octopus, all of which was drizzled with a heavenly citrus vinaigrette and blood orange infused olive oil.
Pork tenderloin with Moroccan spices ($10): These pork chunks were liberally coated with zesty Moroccan spices, grilled so the spices formed a light crust and served with red and yellow pepper sauces.
Piquillo peppers stuffed with cod ($15): This might not sound all that enticing, but it was an excellent, subtle dish. The tender peppers contained a creamy mixture of salted cod topped with a delicate tomato coulis.
Crèma Catalana ($8): This is a Spanish version of crème brulee, made with milk. It had the traditional burned sugar topping beneath which lay soft, smooth cream with a subtle lemon flavor.
Our server was not just pleasant and accommodating; he knew the menu thoroughly and was able to discuss the wines as well. His competence and expertise enhanced an already excellent meal.