When Tom Freck first saw the sprawling property overlooking the Forge River in Moriches, he envisioned a Spanish restaurant that specializes in seafood. “In this area,” he said, “there’s good Italian, good American, good burgers — there’s nothing really different.” And so he set about transforming what had been the Asian-fusion Watami into La Buena Vida. It opened in December.
Freck, who owns Portside Bar & Grill in Port Jefferson, knew exactly who he wanted as his partner and chef: Luis Nunez. Nunez had been the chef at Freck’s East Coast Burrito in East Setauket (2013 to 2017) but, before that, he’d owned Costa de Espana, the Spanish restaurant that opened in Port Jefferson in 1983. “He came from the Dominican Republic and got a job as a busboy at Costa de Espana,” Freck said. “And he worked his way up to cook to chef to owner.”
Even though the chef is from Latin America, Freck noted, La Buena Vida serves Spanish food (as in Spain)— a different cuisine entirely, and one that has relatively few Long Island practitioners. “Some people come in and ask ‘Where are the fajitas? Where are the tacos?’ But … people are receptive.”
Among the restaurant’s small plates (pinchos and tapas, $10 to $15) are seafood-stuffed mushrooms, chorizo sausage sauteed in white wine, asparagus with Manchego, fried calamari, shrimp in garlic sauce, ham-potato croquettes and pulpo (octopus) both a la Gallega (Galcian-style, with paprika and olive oil) and a la plancha (grilled).
Mains (most are $21 to $28) include mariscada (mussels, clams, shrimp and scallops in green, garlic or spicy sauce), grilled sea scallops, arroz con pollo, sauteed veal with chorizo, peppers and onions plus steaks and lobsters. There are also five varieties of paella ($24 to $34) that can also be expanded to serve two or the whole table.
The interior of the restaurant seats about 120 and Freck spruced up the bar and dining rooms when he took over the property. By spring, the waterside deck should also be renovated, affording diners a view of the woods-lined pond that seems miles from Montauk Highway.
La Buena Vida is at 714 Montauk Hwy., Moriches, 631-909-1985, labuenavidaspanishrestaurant.com.