Food & Drink

Say Queso

A new mezcal bar serves up authentic Mexican fare.

Though Lane Harlan’s new Remington bar Clavel is only a block away from her first one, W.C. Harlan, the two couldn’t be more different. Where speakeasy-style W.C. Harlan boasts a dark, candlelit interior, her new mezcaleria and taqueria (whose name means “carnation”) is pastel peach with bright green cacti perched on the windowsills, an exposed kitchen, and an airy dining room. And though the cocktails are a draw at both bars, even if you don’t drink, the food is the main draw at Clavel.

Clavel was first inspired by a trip Harlan and her husband, co-owner Matthew Pierce, made to Oaxaca, Mexico, years ago. The duo has returned many times to the region to research mezcal production and pursue an authenticity apparent everywhere—from a list of more than 30 mezcals (a smoky cousin of tequila made from agave plants) and totopos (corn masa chips) to hand-woven tortilla baskets. Harlan and Pierce even recruited chef Carlos Raba, who grew up in Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa.

Clavel is one of the buzziest bars to open in recent months, and we were eager to see what the fuss was about. On our visit, we started with the queso fundido ($12), a cast-iron skillet of bubbling Chihuahua cheese topped with spicy chorizo and bolstered by a side of chunky guacamole and frijoles puercos (blended beans and pork). To cool things down, we also opted for ceviche sinaloense, ($6) a refreshing take on a traditional Sinaloa dish, this version consisting of lime- and chili-cured shrimp, tomato, and serrano peppers atop a crunchy tostada.

But the real stars here are the seven varieties of tacos, like the pescado ($5) with pan-seared mahi mahi, tomatoes, onions, and beet-red pickled cabbage from local shop HEX Ferments or the earthy cochinita pibil ($3) with slow-roasted pork marinated in bitter oranges and achiote.

We must praise the handmade flour tortillas, all remarkably sturdy and never tearing, despite their thinness, under the weight of hefty ingredients. There’s little to no fire in most of Clavel’s dishes, so heat seekers should consider dousing their dishes with the complimentary table salsa. Beyond tacos, the micro-sized menu also features an impeccable pork sandwich, or “torta,” and a quesadilla for the less adventurous.

But between the native soundtrack on the stereo (we found ourselves shimmying our shoulders throughout the meal) and genuine Mexican flavors, Clavel is the place to visit when you’re in the mood to travel south of the border without leaving Baltimore.