Isabel, Cuban born and trained in Spain, is a willowy whirling dervish, a fiery latina in almost constant angular motion. She creates the tastiest and most authentic Spanish dishes, using, for example, only the finest imported smoked Iberian hams, special beans, varied paprikas, and unique peppers. Aficionados of Spanish cuisine rave about her creations. When not at the hot stove, she may come out and chat with guests. Mary's more subtle in expressing her passion for life and cookery; a calming influence for all when the pace kicks up. Mary and Isabel; Yin and Yang personified!
A Spanish friend took us to IM Tapas. We started with the Fabada Asturiana, ($8) a wonderfully rich soup made from a 1.5” white bean, with bits of Spanish chorizo sausage, tender moist morcilla sausage, green onion, and spices. Isabel is a master at how she simmers, and marries all sorts of tastes together. I could happily make a dinner from two orders of this soup. The place filled up by 7:30 pm with a younger crowd than is usually found in Naples. After overhearing discussions of wine and the food in several languages, it was obvious that the cosmopolitan clientele included younger visitors (20’s-40’s) who clearly appreciate the fine food quality.
A Birthday Party
Our server, Trinity (below), was very helpful in both food and wine suggestions to match our preferences. We were very happy with our wine choices. We had a sweet red sangria, a drier white sangria, and a red Penaguda Tinto 2007 (11), with a wonderful berry flavor depth, lighter tannins and a rich harmony of nuances from first sniff to finish. Next time, we’ll try the TAVS Tinto 2006, for comparison. We had fun with our food pairings. If Unfiltered Unfined Wines’ wine expert Jane Delaney is around, ask for her suggestions as well. The wait staff pitches in for each other in a friendly, professional way.
Jane and Trinity, BeamingNext we had the Napoleon do Remolacha (10), a tower of thick coins of roasted beets, layered between creamy goat cheese slices, with crunchy, powerfully flavorful bits of Serrano lardons and pine nuts on the side. Good, yet overshadowed by our next two tapas.The Racion de Jamon Ibérico de Bellota (by the ounce) is the classic prepared Iberian ham, cut paper thin, with a very soft subtle taste. Try this, and use it as the standard to measure the quality of other hams. These select black pigs freely range, eating acorns and grains, to acquire the special taste. Some hams easily sell for over $90 a pound.My favorite was the D O Pimientos del Piquillo Rellenos con Bacalao ((10). Three tiny, tender beak-shaped red towers arrive with the most simple yet heavenly combination of the handpicked piquillo peppers from Spain, fire roasted, then stuffed with a melt-in-your-mouth creamy bacalao, served with a slightly spicy roasted tomato and pepper cream. If food could be erotic, then these smoky fire roasted peppers and sauce are sensually R-rated. My companion said “This is so delicate, so subtley spiced, it is perfect!” WOW! My companion’s choice was the Vieras en Cama del Pulpo (29). Clearly fresh diver scallops, seared beautifully and perfectly cooked, were drizzled with a blood orange vinaigrette using orange infused olive oil, providing a balanced tartness and sweetness. The scallops were placed on tender octopus slivers. I don’t often find “tender” and “octopus’ in the same sentence’s description, around here.
One friend had the Foie Gras special, oh-so lightly seared and tender-it was truly “to-die-for” good!
Seared Duck Breast, Caramelized Figs, Port Reduction (15)Seafood Paella
Grilled Langostinos a la Plancha-Huge 8" and tender
Carabineros a la Plancha-Norwegian Lobster-Sweeter than Maine's
Pincho Moruno-Skewer of Pork Tenderloin-Spicey (9)!We had the 5 Quesos D.O. Capricho de Mary-Mary’s whimsy of 5 high quality cheeses, served on a cheese board. This great sampling of five cheeses for $25 includes (left to right), a Tetilla-a soft brie-like cows’ cheese, three slices of firmer, mild aged Mahon, with a nice attitude, and a tall slice of Garrotxa- an artisanal goat cheese aged and cloaked in dark ashes, with a firmer, drier texture than the preceding cheeses. Then chunks of pink tinged Marjorero cheese from the Canary Islands-a firm unpasteurized goat’s cheese- from goats whose diet includes wild marjoram and oregano- salted and rubbed with paprika and peppers, yielding a buttery texture, yet with a bite, great to go with a Port wine!
The Cabarales is a rich Blue veined cheese, the equal of any from France or Great Britain. On the side of the cheese plate were a large dollop of quince paste, persimmon slices, and ginger. This is a superb selection for both savoring a variety of Spanish cheeses, and Trinity's cheese education. We complimented Trinity on the varied choice of hanging artwork adorning the light yellow walls. Turns out Isabel is the creator of nearly all if it, in such different styles, no less. Not bad for a Harvard- trained Biochemist. turned vibrant, talented Chef!
One of the foursome at the table next to us said “ This has been an exquisite evening”. A woman two tables away said she wanted “to bring her friend, a top chef in town, here on his day off”. A table of 6 said they were here because “two people said we had to try this”. People are not shy about their love for IM Tapas, and word-of-mouth has made it a success.
Bacalao Brandade Croquettes For dessert we enjoyed the Espresso Coffee Flan, with a wonderfully creamy texture, much lighter than most flans. This was accented by a tiny “windowpane” of caramelized sugar with admixed Patron Tequila coffee liquor and coffee beans; it looks like a miniature stained glass window! The Crema Catalana, a lighter crème brûlée type dessert made with cream and milk, instead of just cream, was less firm than usual; some batches aren't always perfect.
They can be slammed at the magic 7 pm dining hour on Fri or Sat nite, so come earlier or later for best service. Order your tapas to be served perhaps 10-15" apart, Spanish style, to best savor each plate.It was a truly magical evening, from start to finish, with great food and wine, and attentive service in a warm, romantic bistro-like setting. Other diners at other tables noticed our curiosity about their arriving foods, and freely shared their preferences and experiences with us and with other receptive diners-not a common happening in the USA! There are other tapas serving places in town; IM Tapas is simply on a higher plane. That’s just part of Isabel and Mary’s magic, for you to enjoy!
Debbie Laites and friend
Chefs Isabel and Mary, at Top, with Porfi and Juana
IM Tapas -965 Fourth Ave. N., Naples 403-8272 Open 5:30 p.m.- Tues. through Sat. (Located almost 1 block East of the Downtown NCH Hospital complex and Dairy Queen, East of 41)