Restaurant Review: The brilliant Blue Cat

Chef Rima Olvera’s El Gato Azul introduces a new concept to Tel Aviv.

The brilliant Blue Cat Chef Rima Olvera’s El Gato Azul  introduces a new concept to Tel Aviv (photo credit: Courtesy)
The brilliant Blue Cat Chef Rima Olvera’s El Gato Azul introduces a new concept to Tel Aviv
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For the second year in a row, the prestigious French guide for gourmands Gault & Millau recently ranked Oasis among the best restaurants in Israel, cementing its standing among the country’s elite places to eat. Even with this recognition, Chef Rima Olvera’s creative energy has apparently not been taxed to its fullest by overseeing evening service seven nights a week. She felt there was a void in the local culinary scene, and decided to fill it.
“I come from California, and I was not satisfied by the level of Mexican cuisine here,” she says. “So I decided to do it myself.”
In so doing, she also launched a totally new concept: two completely different cuisines, served at different times, on the same days in the same premises. El Gato Azul by Oasis serves Mexican food daily between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., then reverts to its usual fine dining menu starting at 7 p.m.
El Gato Azul offers two specialty cocktails, along with a classic margarita and Bloody Mary (NIS 43-48). The eponymous El Gato Azul – premium mezcal with homemade lemon balm and orange syrup, plus a splash of spicy habanero syrup – packs a delicious punch, while the “Perfect Margarita” may not be an overstatement.
There are also Mexican non-alcoholic drinks, as well as distinctively flavored lemonades, in both non-alcoholic and alcoholic versions. The beer selection is truly international, spanning from Mexico to Asia.
The bilingual food menu comprises two primary sections: Tacos/Tostadas (NIS 36-82 for two, or NIS 57-102 for three) and “Otras Cosas” (Other Things, NIS 34-56). The three smaller sections are Add Ons (NIS 3-8), Nacho chips (NIS 34) and
Desserts (NIS 18-24). There are vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options in each category.
The Sopa de Tarasca is described as a “winter soup,” and it was certainly called for on the day of our visit. One spoonful of this flavorful bean soup – cooked with tomatoes and smoked chili peppers, then garnished with sour cream and green onion – was all it took to transport me straight to Mexico.
Our next dish was also ideal for cold weather: chili con carne, a hearty stew of ground beef and black beans, once again topped off with sour cream and green onion. It was served with a side of homemade nacho chips, which proved addictive. Together, this filling, satisfying combination is hard to beat.
While we had no trouble deciding between the soft tacos and crispy tostadas, it was not nearly as easy narrowing down our preferences from the list of 10 possible fillings. We eventually selected the carne asada and the achiote chicken, both of which were piled high on the small, soft corn tortillas.
The former consisted of thin slices of grilled rump steak, with salsa, lettuce, pickled jalapeño, sour cream and green onion. At first, the generous dollop of salsa overwhelmed the beef; but once we removed the excess, we thoroughly enjoyed the mouthwatering steak.
The achiote chicken, meanwhile, was thick strips of char-grilled white meat chicken that had been marinated in handmade achiote, then further enhanced with salsa, black beans, lettuce, sour cream and onion. The juicy, expertly seasoned chicken was positively succulent, making once again for an outstanding taco.
The salsa in these tacos was Sergio’s salsa, one of no fewer than five homemade variations available in the restaurant’s salsa bar. This dark salsa, made from fire-roasted tomatoes, was an agreeably smoky version, providing just the right amount of heat.
The only two desserts are quintessentially Mexican: flan, a caramel-vanilla custard, and chocolate mousse laced with cinnamon. The portions are small compared to most desserts served in this town, but actually were ideal sweet finales to an exceptional meal.
El Gato Azul serves the most authentic Mexican food I have encountered in Tel Aviv. It would be too much to ask chef Olvera to expand her hours, but hopefully she will eventually add a few more sorely missed dishes from the old country as time goes on.
El Gato Azul by Oasis
Not kosher
17 Montefiore Street, Tel Aviv
Phone: 03-620-6022
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.