LA Times food critic, Mr. Jonathan Gold, has visited three times so far. Based on what I've heard from chefs, I predict a restaurant review coming for Maestro. If I were you, I would head to Maestro now before hordes of people descend to this destination restaurant. I was told the weekends are already crowded since opening based on word a mouth and few articles in the media. The crowd so far has been older and not maybe what you'll find at buzzier places like Bestia, Catch, or EP & LP.
Chef Danny Godinez is originally from Acapulco, Mexico. He spent some time in Texas before moving to Orange County at 18. He attended Saddleback College while bussing tables at PF Chang's and cooking at Splashes in Laguna Beach along with working at French 75. He later gained hospitality experience working at Charlie Palmer and at some upscale resorts in Orange County including about 5 years at chef Michael Mina's Stonehill Tavern.
Chef Danny is not the kind of chef that craves the spotlight. He mentioned to me that his priority is in the kitchen and his style of cooking as his focus. Not only does he care about the execution of his dishes, but I could tell that while chatting with him that he was also paying attention to the dining room floor often excusing himself to lend a hand. While most chefs promote themselves on social media, chef Danny is one of the very few chefs that has his Instagram set to private mode. Consider yourself lucky if he allows you in to get a glimpse of his life. Whenever I have the pleasure of speaking with him I find him to be very humble and easy going.
I've been a fan of chef Daniel Godinez since enjoying lunch at his larger Anepalco location in the city of Orange. I've been back two other times since my first visit for his French-Mexican cuisine. The dinner at Anepalco could rival some of the best dinners I've ever had. I try to visit Anepalco anytime I get the chance to visit. I drove 1.5 hours one evening in traffic from LA to meet my cousin from Boston staying in Orange County at Anepalco. I needed a restaurant to impress my cousin and I knew that Anepalco was a perfect choice.
I finally visited Maestro (translation: "teacher" in English) for dinner. Maestro comes to Los Angeles to educate or share the richness and diversity of Mexican cuisine. I'm sure that many people think that Mexico is a very simple uncomplicated cuisine. I've had a co-worker of mine say to me that "Mexican food is not upscale enough." Mexico is not just tacos and burritos (which is an American food).
Some of the best chefs in the world such as Rene Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen visit Mexico often for inspiration for their menus. Noma is currently in Mexico doing a pop-up.
Maestro is a different concept compared to his other three restaurants Anepalco in Orange and Mercado in Santa Ana. His restaurants in Orange are French-Mexican leaning while his restaurant in Santa Ana, Mercado, represents the regional cuisine of Mexico with 31 dishes from each state.
My Mexican food expert friend visited last Saturday after I recommended Maestro as a restaurant to celebrate her wedding anniversary with her husband. I asked her how she liked it and she raved about it. I knew that I had to finally visit Maestro this week.
I asked her about the dining room and she told me that there was a bar with a full menu. Perfect for solo diners who feel more comfortable dining at the bar rather than the dining room floor at a table.
Once I found my seat, I asked for recommendations for cocktails with mezcal. The recommended cocktail was the "campfire mezcal." It's a cocktail that's a bit of a show if that's your thing. I know it's my thing. If I am going to pay more than $10 for a cocktail and there was an option for a cocktail with smoke or fire, that's what I'm going to pick. At first sip, you can't help but notice the smokey aroma to match what you'll taste in this drink. The perfect cocktail to please your senses. Anepalco and Mercado are also known for their strong cocktail programs.
I wanted to go with chef's choice, but I don't think there is a prix fixe or tasting menu option right now. I told chef Danny that I eat anything and I was down to eat whatever he felt like bringing out of the kitchen.
First item chef Danny brought out was his "esquite street corn." In this dish, you'll get two baby corns on a stick covered in chile de arbol aioli, cotija cheese, and pulverized chapulines (grasshoppers). On a smaller dish, you'll have the esquite. I enjoyed this refined take on street food. The last time I had esquite was from the famous corn man in East Los Angeles. Plenty of complex flavors and some heat in this dish. It surely awakened my palate. Not what I expected and so delicious. This dish will ruin all other street corn you've might have tried.
Next item, chef bought me was picadas -- a kind of sopes without meat. It was so pleasing to look at. I wasn't sure how to eat it at first. Should I use a fork and knife or fold it up like a taco? I chose to fold it up in the shape of a taco. This dish reminded me of the beef tartare you'll find at Destroyer or some of the avocado toasts that I've seen on Instagram. Someone dining at the bar from Acapulco said that she is familiar with picadas and has tasted it back home in Acapulco. She asked me if I knew where the chef was from. I later asked and chef Danny happens to also hail from Acapulco.
For the third course, chef Danny brought me his mole with short rib. I could tell you that this is a powerhouse of a dish and full of flavor. I was told to take the meat and swirl it around with the puréed potatoes. I loved the salty sweet combination of this dish. If you love mole, this dish will surely impress. Get the cab from Valle de Guadalupe to pair with this dish. Just perfect.
After this course, I told chef Danny that I was done and ready for dessert. I was too full to taste more from his menu. I asked what he had for dessert and he told me he had only one item for dessert. The corn cake with huitlacoche (corn smut) ice cream.
They have a curated selection of mezcal and tequila at the bar. I also noticed that they have a selection of sotol. I recommend a taste if you haven't tried it yet. It's in the same family of tequila and mezcal, but this particular agave plant is wild and with that organic. It's very limited. You can agave plant used in Sotol only in Chihuahua. I recently bought a bottle of sotol at Ramirez Beverages and thought that it had a very interesting taste. A nice sipping beverage.
While looking at the drink menu, I was hoping they carried some Mexican craft beers such as Wendlandt or Agua Mala. Something that I felt was missing. I hope they are looking adding Mexican craft beers to the menu to share some of the great beers I've taste on trips to Baja. Perhaps they will add more wine in the future from Valle de Guadalupe or other Mexican wine regions.
Definitely one of the most exciting restaurant openings of 2017. I'm also looking forward to the opening of Verlaine. I'm also a fan of chef Diego Hernandez after visiting his restaurant Corazon de Tierra in Mexico. I feel that even though the restaurant has been consistently busy, it's still under the radar and worth a visit right now. As I mentioned, I'd recommend a visit before this place possibly gets busier after Mr. Gold's LA Times review. I call this the Jonathan Gold effect. Our city's answer to the Michelin guide.
Excellent food and wonderful service. Something I already expect when visiting any of chef Danny Godinez's restaurants.
Go for chef Danny's take on modern Mexican cuisine you won't find anywhere else in LA and also to enjoy the hospitality from the entire team.
Update: Daniel Godinez Leaves Maestro, His First LA County Project, After Just Eight Months - https://la.eater.com/2017/8/3/16089916/daniel-godinez-maestro-modern-mexican-pasadena-chef-leaving
I love exploring Los Angeles like a tourist. I have as much fun in my hometown as I do traveling to another country. I hope my adventures inspire you to eat well and travel often.