The word "tapas" is perilously close to losing its meaning on Long Island, where any small plate — coconut shrimp, corned-beef-and-cabbage egg rolls, nachos, clams casino — can qualify. At Iberico Tapas y Vino, Jake Perdie and Cynthia Alfonso aim to be standard bearers for the centuries-old Spanish tradition. Their St. James restaurant opened in December in the spot that used to be Barbera Pasta e Vino.
The menu lists about 20 tapas, among them the essential tortilla Española (a plump omelet larded with potatoes), chorizo a la parilla (a grill platter of chorizo, morcilla and chistorra sausages), pulpo Gallego (coins of octopus and potatoes tossed with smoked paprika), gambas al ajillo (Gulf shrimp in garlic sauce) and albondigas (meatballs in a romesco sauce of roasted peppers and ground almonds). You can also create your own board of Spanish cheeses (Mahon, Idiazabal, Cabrales and Manchego are among the world’s greatest) and cured meats.
And speaking of cured meats, pride of place in the small, elegant dining room is given to two Spanish hams: There’s jamon serrano, cured only with air and salt like Italian prosciutto. Then there’s the Jamón Ibérico, cured the same way (though for 36 months) but made only from free-ranging black-footed (pata negra) pigs raised on a diet of acorns. (The "Iberico" in the restaurant’s name refers both to this culinary treasure and to the Iberian Peninsula, where Spain is located.)
Most of Iberico’s tapas are in the $12 to $16 range; jamon Iberico — dense, rich and the color of port streaked with cream — will run you $45 for 1.7 ounces.
Meat- and cheese-heavy Spanish cuisine is notably tough on vegans, but Iberico makes a fine pisto, vegetable stew, and pan tumaca (toasted bread smeared with tomato). There are also a handful of larger dishes: piquillo peppers stuffed with oxtail, cod with chickpeas and a 16-ounce prime rib-eye Basque-style steak served with potatoes ($45). Grander still is a cooked-to-order seafood-and-chicken paella for two ($60).
Iberico's wine list is almost all Spanish and, with many of the 30-odd bottles priced under $40 (and about a dozen of them available by the glass), it provides a great opportunity to go beyond sangria, Rioja and Cava into Priorat, Xarello, Txacolina and more, as well as sherries and vermouths little seen on Long Island.
Perdie knows his wine. The former manager of Jamesport Vineyards owns Beach & Vine Wines & Spirits and a wine bar, Fire Island Tap, in Kismet on Fire Island. Kismet has been his summer base of operations for close to a decade but, until this year, he’s spent his winters in Florida and that’s where he met Alfonso, born in Cuba but a longtime resident of Madrid, Spain. It’s Alfonso who insists that the kitchen only use Spanish extra-virgin olive oil (Oleo for cooking, Ego Sum for finishing) and Calasparra rice for paella. And it’s her palate that the restaurant’s two chefs, Josue Trejos and Celio Perdomo, formerly of Pentimento in Stony Brook, must satisfy.
Iberico Tapas y Vino is at 412 Route 25A, St James; 631-307-5620, ibericony.com.