Saturday, January 24, 2009

Chowhound Chowdown at IM Tapas Naples

The stars and planets aligned just right. Naples' I M Tapas restaurant was the epicenter, as a dozen chowhounds converged, and most met for the first time. RevrendAndy and MrsRev put out the word Jan 3rd, and handled the logistics, as Chowhounds from Chicago, Lake Tahoe, North Carolina, Italy, Bonita Springs and Naples Florida met. We unknowingly formed a culinary "critical mass", for a treasured evening with warm friends and great food.

The restaurant was in awe as RevrendAndy and MrsRev regally entered as if on a red carpet, TomOHaver and Chef Mary were warmly welcomed, as the group greeted each other as if long lost friends. The distinguished JohnB and Janet brought cool weather with them.Two published food writers and the other Chowhounds soon joined.
As TomOHaver so aptly stated on Chowhound.com's IM Tapas thread, “Chef/owner Isabel Pozo Polo and her partner and staff have created just about the most perfect small restaurant you can imagine: delightful intimate atmosphere, out-of-the-way location, wonderful food and service, and very reasonable prices. It does not get much better than this." Fortunately the chowhounds are into sharing and comparing, so many fine plates were passed around the table, for all to taste.

I’ve previously posted on I M Tapas at :
http://aninsatiableappetite.blogspot.com/2008/08/im-tapas-spanish-treasure-in-naples.html
and it’s a magical bistro, with a warm, friendly staff. Executive Chef Isabel Pozzo Polo and Sous Chef Mary Shipman took time out from the fiery stoves to visit and explain the recipes and techniques.

We had a shared feast of over sixteen creations. Each person ordered a dish, and sent it around the table, so all could sample the beautifully prepared cuisine. The Napoleon de Remolacha (10), is a medley of coins of roasted beets, layered between creamy goat cheese slices, with crunchy, powerfully flavorful bits of Serrano lardons, topped with pine nuts. Try the Wild Mushroom confit's earthy bites of varied fresh warm ‘shrooms sautéed and served in a small metal cauldron for your delight. There may be black trumpets, chanterelles, oysters, enokis and various Asian rarities to tickle your palate.
The Espinacas a la Catalana- wilted spinach with pine nuts, dried cherries and a light vinaigrette, is a salad that a carnivore would appreciate.
The Racion de Jamon Ibérico de Bellota (below) is the classic prepared acorn fed Iberian ham, cut paper thin, with a succulently rich, taste. A Southwestern type touch is the Flores de Calabaza- wild zucchini blossoms filled with Capri cheese and Jamon Serrano, then flash fried in extra virgin olive oil. Roll the crisp blossoms on your tongue, then bite into the melted goat cheese, with a touch of Hawaiian or Nepali sea salt. MMMmmmm!
The fresh anchovies in garlic sauce, topped with slivered garlic, are an incredible treasure; rarely offered in the USA. A must try!You can not go wrong with the Artichoke hearts filled with Serrano Ham and Manchego cheese, then poached in a wonderful roasted garlic fume. I could dine on two orders, and be happy!The Seared Duck Breast, with Caramelized Figs, and Port Reduction (15) is my favorite, cooked medium rare, for its almost gamey rich taste, and accented by a crisp herb crust. The Oriol Vin del Aspres is a perfect accompaniment, much like a pinot noir, to play off the Port reduction and the sensual duck.
The Lubina a la Plancha is the Mediterranean dorada, or sea bream, cooked whole, then the spine and bones is removed from the two fillets, deep fried till the bones are crisp, and all served in its tender glory with warmed virgin olive oil, piquillos and chervil. Nice!Shrimp in Garlic sauce, with bits of finely chopped garlic, is a delightful order of large shrimp, cooked just enough, and served tender with the garlic heat-tempered to give its richness, rather than the sharpness of raw garlic. The Hot Pimenton-spiced Octopus, was a little over cooked, and firmer than it should have been, however the saucing was spot on. With sixteen orders from our table, and other diners tables' orders as well, I’m amazed only one dish came out cooked perhaps a minute too long. Still, every molluscan morsel was consumed. What’s life without some Hudson Valley Foie Gras, coated with a caramelized diced Granny Smith apple, with hot persimmon seeds, and enveloped in a Calvados and maples syrup reduction. If this sounds a touch too sweet for you, have the sensual seared foie gras first, then the apple and reduction next. The foie gras is almost erotic in its succulence.Gabriele, our server, is quite the cook himself, and he is knowledgeable about the finer points, and hands on alchemy, of molecular gastronomy.

The Beef Tenderloin with Cabrales bleu cheese and a chopped sweet onion confit is a great medley, served best rare or medium rare, with the trio in each bite. Adventuresome? The most amazing looking plate of the evening was the Wild Scarlet Lobsterines and scampo a la plancha, that is grilled, crustaceans that tasted like a delicate lobstser, which were opened and prepared tableside (I interrupted the process, below, for my photo.)
Delicious seared wild bonito with pomegranate sautee and pomegranate reduction is better than others' ho-hum "sushi-grade" tuna. (There's no such "grade", so beware of restaurants that offer this bogus "grade."
A delicous Spanish cheese plate with 5 selections is the finale.
Meeting other Chowhounds is a rare treat, and learning about their paths in life, and amazing twists and turns along the way, adds such a depth of knowing to the people behind the helpful postings. Our demographics-ages ran from 20’s to perhaps early 70’s, all sorts of educational backgrounds, with a wedding photographer, a food and social photographer, a registered nurse, an ex-emergency room doctor, a sommelier, and two seasoned educators. Many cook rather well, (Cuban, French, Thai, kitchen sink) and most had significant international travel experiences. Among the group, there is over 600 hours of logged SCUBA dives, from Papua New Guinea to the Caribbean. Pretty bright, colorful bunch! All are united by curiosity and passion for all sorts of foods, and the desire to both share their food and their passions through their Chowhound postings.

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)

1 comment:

Tom O'Haver said...

As one of the participants in that delightful evening, my mouth was watering after reading your account and looking at the terrific pictures. It was everything that Insatiable said and more. My thanks to all who participated. May there be many more such evenings in my life.

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