Thursday, July 23, 2015

Restaurant Review: Clavel

By Archie Hopewell

Clavel is a new Mexican restaurant that opened in southern Remington in June. Its website says, “The heart of our kitchen is the handmade corn and flour tortilla. The heart of our bar is artisanal mescal, the oldest distilled spirit in North America.” And they’re doing interesting things with both of those motifs.

For an appetizer, we had queso fundido (fried cheese), which came out bubbling hot and with guacamole and beans on the side. It’s made with chorizo sausage, but because my dining companion was vegetarian, we had them leave it out. Don’t. As we ate it I kept thinking it needed more spice, salt, and umami, all things that chorizo has in spades. Have a full serving of the guacamole if you don’t eat meat, it’s like a textbook for what guac should be.

Meat and vegetarian tacos cost $3 each, fish and shrimp tacos are $5. We chose the beef tongue, pork, vegetable, fish, and shrimp tacos. All were solid, but the real standouts were the beef tongue and the shrimp.

The beef tongue taco was rich, tender, and moist, shredded and cooked with subtle seasoning to a texture similar to pulled pork. The green salsa added some nice crisp flavors.

The shrimp was warm-flavored and showed off the quality of the shrimp with just a bit of onion, tomato, and sweetness to round out the flavor.

The tortillas are fresh and flavorful at Clavel, and the tacos they carry are worth the trip, but the mescal stole the show. Not having had a good experience with mescal between the two of us, we asked for the mescal list (which also lists wine). What we got was an education in an underappreciated spirit.

Mescal is not just tequila’s country cousin. Similar to tequila, mescal is made from agave, a succulent plant native to southern North America and Central America. But whereas tequila is made in just one small part of Mexico, mescal has geographic diversity akin to whiskey or wine. Clavel’s resident mescal expert set us up with a flight of three to try. From buttery and easy to smokey and astringent, we became convinced that there was a world of flavor to explore in mescal.

Clavel is owned by the same people that own W.C. Harlan, so it’s no surprise that the cocktails ($8 to $12) were good. They lean quirky; for dessert I had a Nixtamal, which was creamy and cold with cinnamon and corn flavors balancing the mescal.

The atmosphere is loud and casual, the service fast and friendly. The two-person table was cramped, so bring some friends and sit at a larger one. But do go, because Clavel is good eating, and they’re just getting started. ◘

*This article has been updated with a more correct translation of queso fundido. Deep cheese, the original translation, would be queso hondo, which also sounds delicious.