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I'm genuinely excited about this one.

Claro is a brand new (I went on opening night) Mexican restaurant in the former Pines space on Third Avenue in Gowanus, Brooklyn. It's one of those "accredited chef does ethnic food" places, this one run by T.J. Steele, formerly the Executive Sous Chef (whatever that means) at the Union Square Cafe, who has since relocated to Oaxaca, spending half the year there (one wonders whether he'll continue that now that he has a restaurant in Brooklyn) and helping run a Mezcal producer that he co-created. (The co-owners of Claro are the guys who run nearby Freeks Mill.) I want to emphasize that Chef Steele isn't someone who went on vacation to Oaxaca and then came back and decided he's an expert in Mexican cuisine; this is someone who has lived there semi-permanently.

Nevertheless, this kind of restaurant sounds terrible in theory; and people like Andy Ricker catch tremendous amounts of shit for being perceived as claiming they can "improve on" native cuisines they have come to love. But I've eaten around a lot in Oaxaca, and I'm here to tell you (admittedly on the basis of the only one dish I've yet eaten here) that Claro would be one of the best places in town if it were there instead of in Gowanus. And the reason is that in this case the "Brooklynization"/trained-chefification bears fruit. The food isn't a faint, deracinated version of the mother cuisine; nor is it fancied up. Rather, it's a gutsy, accurate rendition whose quality is augmented by careful sourcing and precise kitchen techniques.

As I said, this is on the basis of only one dish. But what a dish! Their menu signature, a barbacoa (made with goat rather than mutton). It's priced much higher than anything else on the menu -- I think it's somewhere between $35 and $40 -- and obviously meant for sharing. But the bartender looked me over and said I could finish an order myself if I didn't order anything else. (As it turned out, I think she underestimated me: I probably could have had an appetizer, too.) As I understand it, the barbacoa is coated with lard before it goes over the wood (or in the pit, if they make it the truly traditional way). This imparts a crunchy crust that definitely improves the dish (as much as I love mushy slow-cooked meat, this is mushy slow-cooked meat with a really nice char!). And the goat was a contender for the best goat meat as meat -- and certainly the best butchered! -- I've ever had. That's one of the advantages of this kind of place: you get goat at more "ethnic" Mexican spots, and it's stringy, gristley, and full of bone shards. Not here.

The cocktails are OK. The Mezcal selection is strong (although, to be fair, not as strong as at Atla).

Although they're not calling it that, this is still a sort of "soft opening". The bartender told me that the menu will expand in the coming weeks (not that it's so sparse now, as these places go).

I really haven't been this excited about a new place in a while. I feel ridiculous saying so, but I think I like this place more than Atla.

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This isn't even a classic case of "running out of food." This is a dish that's been heavily promoted but that's apparently PLANNED to be unavailable without warning on "gap" days (or at least that is

dope. exciting. I love the name too..

my daughter liked the goat! I enjoyed the rest of the food too, although I liked the goat more than anything else we had by a wide margin.

"SSSNNNNEEEEAAAKKKK!!!!!!"

 

That was me cursing your name when I was informed that Claro temporarily took the goat dish off the menu until they could find a more reliable supplier (which they seem to have found, as they said it would be available again starting this week).

 

But yeah. This place is great. Tried two pizza-like items, a memela fried in Benton's bacon fat with heirloom tomato sauce and queso fresco, and a tlayuda with a cold rabbit salad on top. Only shrimp aguachile (which we were warned was very spicy) was just OK, needed more heat and acid.

 

Next time, the goat!

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Just for the record -- and not that you can now apparently have the barbacoa -- I now understand that they fry the goat meat in lard (or maybe it's duck fat) to order after it's been slow-cooked.

That's frequently SOP, to reheat on the plancha cooked meats for tacos. Why not with lard? It's the grease at hand.

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