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Grass-fed beef tenderloin with Spanish blue cheese and red onion confit.
Grass-fed beef tenderloin with Spanish blue cheese and red onion confit. / Sharon Kenny/Special to The News-Press
Seared duck breast with a caramelized fig and port reduction sauce. / Sharon Kenny/Special to The News-Press

IF YOU GO

Where: 965 Fourth Avenue North, Naples
Information: 403-8272 or imtapas.com

Shrimp in garlic sauce. / Sharon Kenny/Special to The News-Press

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Doesn’t everyone want to know about the great little restaurant on the back street that only the locals know? That’s I.M. Tapas. This charming little Spanish restaurant opened about five years ago in an area of Naples known for car servicing, dog grooming and the iconic old Dairy Queen.

I was worried that no one would ever find this sophisticated little place but, with great food and great service, even the most unlikely location can be overcome. Of course people need their dog washed and their car serviced at some point, so Fourth Avenue North (just down the street from Naples Community Hospital) maybe isn’t so unlikely a spot for this Spanish tapas restaurant.

I love tapas because the selection of little plates means not having to make a commitment. Try a little garlic shrimp, have a taste of the seared duck breast and don’t miss the deep-fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with cheese, shallots and herbs if they’re on the specials menu that day.

Isabel and Marie are the I and the M of I.M. Tapas and they run this lovely restaurant with passion and humor. A well-dressed mannequin named Nina, a refugee from the former bridal shop that once occupied this space, sits forever nursing the same drink at the end of the bar.

Besides two pages of hot and cold tapas, the regular menu always features items that are uniquely Spanish such as romanesco sauce over a lamb porterhouse, or scallops on a bed of octopus slivers. Isabel and Marie are known for their unusual ingredients. Their special paellas – such as the Paella Marinera, overflows with seafood, or for the more adventurous, try the Paella Negra Catalana with lobster, langostinos and cigalas.

A good selection of Spanish wines is always available including some great wines (even a Priorat) by the glass.

Eating in Spain is a long, leisurely and very late affair so come to I. M. Tapas with time and an open mind. Dining with a group of people is best so you can try a wide variety of tapas and it gets me out of the rut of ordering the same old favorite things every time. This is a very dark restaurant from the outside and it may look closed even when it’s open, so get out and try the door.

And be sure to share a toast with Nina down at the end of the bar.

Sharon Kenny is the author of “Where Should We Eat? A Foodlover’s Recommended Places to Eat and Drink in the Naples Area.”

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