Tortilla Española at Tres Gatos
by MC Slim JB
| July 09, 2012
Photo: JOEL VEAK
Thumbing their noses at the ongoing recession, worthy new restaurants continue to open at a brisk pace in Greater Boston, leaving restaurant critics with a high-class problem: not being able to get to all of them promptly. For instance, Tres Gatos (470 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, 617.477.4851) opened more than a year ago and has been widely reviewed, but Food Coma just got here, and we’re ruing the fact. This charming Spanish restaurant, set in a former private residence (and selling a small selection of books and vinyl in its back rooms), manages a rare feat: taking a very traditional approach to some dishes, getting creative with others, and executing both styles with grace and aplomb.
For instance, I’ve never seen roasted, sea-salted, spiced pepitas ($5) in a Madrid bar (pumpkin seeds are more common in Latin America), but they’re a terrific snack, a classy update on beer nuts, encouraging even faster downing of the crisp, easy-drinking, wallet-friendly Ivison fino sherry ($6). Maybe they serve soft-shell crab ($11) fried in semolina batter somewhere in Barcelona, but probably not with slivers of scallions and a Thai-inflected chili-ginger sauce. Regardless, I’d bet no one would object to pairing it with a tumbler of Basque white, like the lemony, effervescent, perfectly summery 2010 Ameztoi Txakolina ($10). Does some rustic Castilian taberna offer slices of grilled lamb’s tongue ($11)? Perhaps, but I’ll wager they’re not plated next to creamy grits topped with a medium-boiled egg.
Other tapas here lean more canonical, like one of the most exquisitely tender, buttery plates of jamón Ibérico ($12) I’ve tasted this side of the Atlantic. No liberties are taken or needed with a wedge of Valdeón ($5), a mildly intense blue cheese served with a dab of honey and good rustic bread. And there’s nothing more utterly at home in a tapas bar — nor so often over-cheffed in American-Spanish restaurants — than tortilla Española ($6), the frittata-like wedge of thin-sliced Yukon Gold potatoes, here properly bound with nothing more than eggs, olive oil, and sea salt, liberally dosed with more fine, grassy olive oil. Yes, there’s also a pretty, effusive plume of aioli, tinted coral with smoky pimentón, but this tortilla hardly needs it, so fine is its elemental, unadorned flavor. That understated esthetic extends throughout this place, from the softly lit interior’s chocolate and tangerine walls, to the cozy patio out front, to service that is at once leisurely and solicitous, well-suited to the distinctly motley, laid-back JP crowd. Even in a small city like Boston, it’s hard to keep up with every newcomer — but if ever a place inspired a “Better late than never,” it’s Tres Gatos.