Nestled into a corner of Memorial Square in downtown Pasadena, Maestro “modern Mexican” fare is, to be fair, adequately labelled. Its menu is loosely based somewhere within the umbrella of “Mexican,”and its interior and menu also strive to fit into the equally large umbrella of ‘modern.’
Enchiladas? Sure. Gastrique and microgreens? Yep. Mexican confit? That too – never mind the contradictions therein. Expensive menu items that come on small plates? Check. The menu is indeed very modern.
Industrial light bulbs? Check. Penny-tile, Spanish accent tile; wrought iron and wood tables, even a 30-foot tufted seat – the interior is just as modern as the menu.
But, somewhere in the process of meeting its respective label’s criteria, a good deal of authenticity was lost.
The meal began with a round of fried calamari, topped with chile de arbol and microgreens, with a red pepper puree. It was very spicy, and a steal at eight bucks – but not a typically Mexican dish. It did go very well with the $6 happy hour Palomar, a house margarita made with grapefruit. The Palomar, in turn, went very well with the fantastic ‘Beer and a Shot’ for $10 on the happy hour menu.
The entree was mole confit. Confit, a French method of slow cooking a meat in it’s own fat, produces very rich and soft meat. However, it’s not the best combination. The tender, fatty chicken legs being drowned in mole gave the plate a drowning feeling. Everything was wet and mushy; very tasty, just not the best texture. The mole was on par with store-bought mole – but nowhere near as good as the jars in my freezer, homemade by extended family members. The rice was jasmine instead of traditional spanish rice, which was an unappreciated deviation from traditional Mexican form. It was good overall, but at $24 was overpriced based on both principle and quality.
All in all, the experience was enjoyable, but a much better meal could be had at any of the small, family owned, ‘non-modern’ Mexican or Central/South American restaurants that are abundant in LA. The seating was also a bit awkward – the tufted bench seat was much lower than the table, so a bit of stretching was required to eat.