Serious Eats: New York
La Slowteria: Modern Mexican Beyond the Taco in Carroll Gardens
There has been a recent trend of New York City chefs venturing into Mexican cuisine with a focus on elevated street food (and realms beyond), but Chef Hugo Orozco Carillo of La Slowteria is going in a slightly different direction. While he's not opposed to tortas or tacos, he's more interested in introducing diners to Mexican cuisine's diversity.
Carillo was previously the chef at a resort in the Mexican beach town Tulum, where the flux of international tourism requires the food to be more global and refined. He brings a similar thoughtful sensibility to La Slowteria.
There is a seemingly endless supply of spoon tender confited duck in El Negrito ($23); the whole leg is smothered in a complex mole and served alongside a deconstruction of the same sauce: sweet plantains, figs, sesame seeds, peanuts, almonds, grilled onion, grated chocolate, and about 20 other ingredients. The real joy comes from dragging the pulled duck through those elements, finding a different flavor or texture each time, whether it's the crunch of a pecan or the citrus bite of a whole coriander seed.
Diversity of flavor is a recurring theme on the menu here; each dish I tried was unsatisfied offering just one main taste; it hit several at once. The raw Blue Point oysters in La Estrella ($12) are accompanied by a variety of citrus wedges, each giving a distinct flavor to the briny oysters: sweet orange, sweeter tangerine, sour Seville orange, bitter grapefruit.
The real star, though, is a small dish of worm salt (dried and grated mezcal larva combined with salt and guajillo chili powder) that delivers a deep savory counterpoint to its salinity. If you happen to visit during happy hour, order additional oysters for just a dollar each; it would be a shame to let any of that worm go to waste.
La Sandía ($8) features a large triangle of seedless watermelon punched with holes that have been stuffed with crunchy flash-fried hibiscus flowers. Separate from the fruit are mixed greens tightly wrapped up by thin slices of cucumber. Each element gets a healthy ladle of a muddled peppermint infusion. If you prefer a more savory salad, generously garnish the fruit with the included bowl of smoked salt, as the dish is decidedly on the sweet side.
La Chalupa ($13, top photo), well-seasoned guacamole and pico de gallo with shrimp and sea scallops that have been quickly broiled and then rested in citrus, chili, and oyster liquor, makes a bright topping for the included housemade tostada. If you prefer a hotter guacamole, the dish comes with an intense dark salsa made with just charred habaneros, onions, and oil that will widen your eyes and make you break into a sweat.
In lieu of soft drinks, the restaurant offers an impressive selection of fresh vegetable and fruit juices, most of which cost around $5; they make a far better pairing for your meal, or solo snack, than a Coke. La Slowteria also serves brunch daily, when you can find tacos, gorditas, and huevos rancheros.
At night the food is less identifiable but more striking. It is elaborately plated but thoughtfully delivered, equal parts style and substance.