As cozy as someone’s living room (because it really once was) with eclectic offerings, Tres Gatos is a mainstay of cool and cultured Jamaica Plain. For 10-plus years, it has served up a Spanish tapas-inspired selection of small plates, wine and cocktails, as well as curated books and vinyl records in a shop out back. The clientele tends to be locals “excited to try different things,” says the restaurant’s executive chef, Lorenia Ruiz.
Ruiz joined Tres Gatos in September and is loving the vibe of the neighborhood, though it’s a big change from her former role as sous chef at 63 Clinton, a Michelin one-starred tasting menu restaurant in Manhattan. “Super different from the bustle and the hustle and the tourists of New York City, but different in a good way,” she says.
Boston feels like “home” in the U.S., says Ruiz, who is originally from Mexico City. She worked at Fox & the Knife in South Boston and helped to open Nautilus Pier 4 before her New York experience. “I was looking for an opportunity to create my own food,” she says, and connected with Tres Gatos through her former boss, Stephen Marcaurelle, who helmed the JP restaurant for five years before opening Nautilus in 2021. Tres Gatos “is still doing the Spanish food,” Ruiz assures, but with Mexican flavors and the chef’s experience imbued in every dish.
Ruiz is the first female executive chef of Tres Gatos. She has staffed up the kitchen with sous chef Tyler Karlan and Lida Muñoz, a line cook who’s also responsible for a robust new dessert menu. Ruiz credits another former boss, Fox & the Knife chef-owner Karen Akunowicz, for empowering her as a younger cook. Now, Ruiz says, she’s pleased to be able to give others opportunities, especially women.
Here’s how Ruiz and her team are taking on Tres Gatos favorites and new dishes alike.
Housemade Focaccia and Sourdough Bread
Ruiz is an experienced baker, so she’s brought house-baked bread back to Tres Gatos. Fresh sourdough is sliced and grilled with every order of mussels and boquerones (anchovies), or it can be ordered by the basket with the day’s flavor of compound butter, such as thyme-chili or rosemary-garlic butter. The kitchen is also baking fresh focaccia daily.
Made with high-quality lamb sourced from Savenor’s Butcher, this Tres Gatos staple has gone back to basics. Ruiz and Karlan developed the umami-enhanced chimichurri, an herbaceous mix of herbs and savory boquerones, now topping the burger; and they are also baking potato buns in-house. “We wanted the lamb meat to shine,” Ruiz says.
Ruiz has fully reimagined the head-on shrimp tapas at Tres Gatos. Large, Spanish red shrimp are now marinated then grilled over fire, instead of the former preparation of gambas a la plancha (griddled shrimp). The cilantro sauce is “in the same realm” as the longtime menu favorite, but is now amped up with jalapeños and tons of garlic. The pleasantly charred spiciness “goes great with the gambas themselves because they’re really powerful in flavor,” Ruiz says.
This dish showcases the chef’s heritage and palate. She uses “a lot of Mexican chilies in the adobo,” the sauce that marinates the beef. Guajillo and morita chilies impart sweet and smoky notes, rather than spicy heat; and the black garlic adds a “funky, tasty” element, she explains. The steak is grilled to order and served atop smooth charred eggplant with a bright charred-tomatillo and pineapple salsa for a perfectly balanced bite.
Tres Leches Cake
Two new desserts are now options alongside Tres Gatos’ classic churros: Basque-style cheesecake, and this creamy treat made by line cook Lida Muñoz. Her recipe for tres leches cake is topped with blackberry compote.
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