Review: Jonathan Gold finds a spot that takes regional Mexican cooking on an adventure
The morning after my last meal at Maestro, Danny Godinez’s new Mexican restaurant in Old Pasadena, I pulled the leftover barbacoa out of the refrigerator to see if I could salvage enough for a taco. There were still a few scraps of lamb left, but the container seemed half-filled with a mysterious goo. I was about to abandon the project – congealed lamb fat is no fun. I dipped in a spoon to see whether it might be worth reheating. And I was flabbergasted to discover that what I’d thought was grease was in fact beautifully jellied consommé, clear and as richly flavored as a demi-glace, without a speck of fat.
This was Mexican food with a different point of view. And while I’m not sure I don’t prefer the magnificent hangover barbacoa from the beloved Aqui es Texcoco in Commerce or the dense, oily barbacoa from My Taco in Highland Park, Godinez’s version is very, very good — more delicate than its counterparts, slightly stringy, and without the insanely delicious pockets of fat that burst on your tongue, but still lovely and substantial. You could compare it to a Provençal daube, but flavored with chiles and cinnamon instead of orange zest and thyme. When you eat it at Maestro, you have the benefit of fragrant tortillas patted to order and maybe something from the restaurant’s first-rate mezcal list to go with it. It is a thoroughly Mexican meal.
Maestro is the newest outpost of Godinez’s small empire, crammed into what used to be the Afghan restaurant Azeen’s. It is his first restaurant outside Orange County, where he is considered a chef as ambitious as Taco Maria’s Carlos Salgado or Irenia’s Ryan Garlitos.