Authentic Spanish food is hard to come by on Long Island, but those seeking a true tapas experience — not to mention a proper, cooked-to-order paella — will have an easier time now that Larry and Jackie Villalobos have arrived in Freeport. The Venezuelan-American couple operate two casual Venezuelan spots (both called Cachapas y Mas) in Manhattan and Queens, but both trace their roots to Spain, and it has long been Larry’s dream to honor that heritage with a restaurant. Villa Lobos Tapas Bar opened in July.
The location looked promising enough, perched at the edge of Al Grovers Marina so that the spacious deck (with its own bar) at least has a view of some boats, if not the water. The dining room has the cozy vibe of a wine cellar and, once seated, I dipped my toe into two tapas and a glass of wine. And, really, they had me at wine. The all-Spanish list features five whites, five reds and two sparklers, most of them available by the glass or bottle. There were vermouths and sherry from Emilio Lustau, the great Spanish producer, and even a Spanish beer, Estrella Galicia Premium Lager, among the six on tap.
Whistle wetted, I ordered the pan con tomate and, lo, it featured mashed, ripe tomatoes spread on crusty country bread and topped with uncured anchovies. The tortilla Española was rich and savory, larded with tender slices of potato. Croquetas de jamón were filled with an oozy mixture of béchamel and real Spanish serrano ham. Clams in garlic and parsley were almost as good as the juices they left on the plate, which I consumed thanks to a steady supply of good crusty bread.
All of this gave me the confidence to order paella, a dish which is as much about the rice as the meats or fish served with it. Villa Lobos offers a version with chicken and chorizo sausage, along with quartered artichokes, snow peas and roasted peppers. The fat grains of rice were impregnated with flavor and yet were not in the least overcooked. One quibble: there could have been a better crust on the underside of the rice, the so-called socarrat that distinguishes a great paella from a very good one.
Next time, I’ll get the seafood paella (with clams, mussels, shrimp and squid) and dig deeper into the tapas I missed, among them, albondigas (pork-beef meatballs in tomato-paprika sauce), callos a la Madrileńa (braised tripe, chorizo, blood sausage and chickpeas), pulpo a la plancha (Galician-style grilled octopus) and boards of Spanish hams and cheeses. There’s also a bottomless brunch on weekends and happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. when oysters are $1 apiece.
Most tapas at Villa Lobos range from $8 to $16; paella is $36 to $40 for small (serves 4), $56 to $60 for large (serves 8-10).
Villa Lobos Tapas Bar is at 499 S. Main St., Freeport, 516-608-6042, villalobostapas.com.