Dining with the stars: Gowanus restaurant Claro gets Michelin recognition • Brooklyn Paper

Dining with the stars: Gowanus restaurant Claro gets Michelin recognition

Ready to grill: Claro chef and owner T.J. Steele just won a Michelin-star rating.
Gabi Porter

It’s the clear winner!

Gowanus’s Mexican eatery Claro, whose Spanish name translates to clear in English, this month received one of the food world’s most prestigious awards — a Michelin star.

The Third Avenue restaurant is the first in the neighborhood known for its eponymous filthy waterway to win the honor — which came as a surprise to its owner and chef, who said his sole focus is alerting locals to the spot’s always-changing menu of fire-grilled tortillas, tacos, moles, and mezcal.

“I was a little shocked,” said T.J. Steele, who lives in Williamsburg and also owns a home in Mexico, where he founded a mezcal brand. “I had no clue the Michelin folks were coming. I was hoping to get a review from the New York Times, which I got — I didn’t know there was more after that.”

Claro, which specializes in cuisine from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, is one of only nine restaurants in Brooklyn with a Michelin star.

And Steele hopes news of the rating his eatery received on Nov. 6 will bring even more foodies to the neighborhood on the edge of Brooklyn’s Nautical Purgatory, where the city is planning a massive rezoning in order to transform it from an industrial center to a residential enclave.

“I think it’s up-and-coming, a lot of good stuff around,” he said. “The fact that we are busy all the time means there’s people around here in the neighborhood, and they seem to like what we are doing.”

The new claim to fame will not change Claro’s laid-back atmosphere, said Steele, since it was the restaurant’s unique identity that brought it the recognition it deserves.

“We’re not gonna change what we are doing, we’re happy to be acknowledged,” he said.

When most people hear of Michelin star restaurants they think of snooty spots that serve tiny, expensive dishes served on fancy plates, but Claro — which opened last year, and serves three tacos for $14 among its dishes — is reasonably-priced, according to its owner, who described its indoor and outdoor dining spaces as relaxed hangout spots, even though he cooks with only the finest foods.

“We’re not a white-tablecloth restaurant, but we’re using all the same ingredients as the best restaurants in New York are, and using same kind of care,” he said. “My personality is more like Claro, it’s a little more relaxed and about the food, and just having a good experience and good time.”

Steele said there is still room for him to grow in Gowanus — he is keeping his eyes peeled for a place nearby to open his next big restaurant, which will offer a different spin on his grub, he said.

“A different concept, maybe a kind of spin off,” he said. “Because of the location with the backyard, it worked really well with the Oaxacan grilling stuff we are doing.”

Claro (284 Third Ave. between President and Carroll streets in Gowanus, www.clarobk.com). Open Sun–Thurs from 5:30 to 10:30 pm, Fri–Sat 5:30 to 11:30 pm, Sat–Sun brunch from 11:30 am to 3 pm.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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