It was a somber day when JP's legendary Rhythm and Muse, the indie vinyl and used bookstore (and Scrabble championship arena) closed its doors for a spell last fall. But word around town was that this hip neighborhood gathering spot (since 1998) was simply getting a make-over. Owner David Doyle had a grand plan, fueled by excursions to Seville, Madrid and Barcelona, to add a Spanish tapas menu (and a kitchen) to his already successful business model. opened for business just last month, and in a matter of weeks has become what all the buzz is about.
The renovated spot at 470 Centre is decidedly gorgeous in its design, color and concept. The dining area is small—just about 45 seats including 10 bar-side—but includes two large tables looking over Centre Street, a few snug high-tops and standard table seats. The walls are lined with high shelves tastefully dotted with vintage books and various bric-a-brac. The namesake Tres Gatos (three cats) sit in the front window, having been found just down the street at .
An open kitchen lets you watch Chef Marcos Sanchez (formerly of Dante) and sous chef Lydia Reichert (formerly of Craigie on Main) work their magic with a menu based around small plates and locally-sourced ingredients.
Eats start with traditionial Spanish pinchos (all $4)—a selection of warmed olives, smoke sea-salted Marcona almonds, Iberian-style pickles and boquerones, pungent vinegar-marinated white anchovies.
Charcuterie and cheese course offerings ($5 each) include delicate, thinly-sliced wisps of either Lono, Serrano and famed Iberico ham (legal in the States for only a few years now), plus a house-made Vermont rabbit terrine (pleasantly fatty and flavored with fresh sage and coriander) served with the expected grainy mustard, pickled onion and grilled country bread. There's a small selection of Spanish cow and goat cheeses; the Idaizabel, a sheep's milk cheese with a smoked, nutty flavor, shouldn't be skipped.
Traditional tapas make this menu shine ($4-$11 each). Offerings are few (they change daily and will change seasonally), but mainstays include warm salt cod brandade with parsley bread crumbs, grass-fed beef empanadas with a traditional spicy Romesco sauce, grilled pork belly with a cider-braised endive and apple salad, and New Caladonia prawns with toasted garlic and pine nuts. There's also the albondigas—miniature Moroccan lamb meatballs—served in a mini cast iron skillet along side buttery grilled country bread. A generous plate of the Spanish-tapa standard, patatas bravas (fried potatoes), comes with heavy dollops of aoili and a roasted tomato salsa.
Sweet offerings are limited but include the Pinon and Pear Tart (saffron and wild flower honey poached pears, $7) and Churros and Chocolate (spiced hot chocolate with sugared fried dough, $7).
There are a couple of domestic draughts on tap (Victory, Ommegang, and Brooklyn) plus a solid selection of beer bottles—the Brother Thelonious, a Belgian-style dark ale from Northern California, is a popular pick here, plus an IPA, Imperial Red IPA and Black Hops from nearby Blue Hills Brewery.
The wine list is impressive, though limited—a relatively young collection of Spanish reds, whites and cavas are offered here ($28-$78) and represent the various winemaking regions of the country. There's also an offering of Spanish sherries, reasonably priced at $12 and under.
In the back of the building, just down the hall from the dining area, you'll find the cramped book and music store with its hand-picked, hard-to-find selection of books, vinyl and CDs. Phil Wilcox (formerly of Boston's renowned ) manages the store, and keeps a steady stream of vintage 45s playing, creating Tres Gatos' welcoming soundtrack.
While everyone seems to be talking about Tres Gatos, eating at Tres Gatos, or talking about eating at Tres Gatos, time will tell if owner David Doyle's vision becomes a sustainable reality in the neighborhood. But with a thoughtful menu of traditional tapas (that lend themselves to sharing), cheap books, crates of vinyl, and scores of neighbors rooting for its success, you gotta think the chances are pretty damn good.
Tres Gatos is open Monday-Saturday, noon to 11 pm, and Sunday, Noon to 10 pm.