So much of what Chef Juan Mondragon is making at his namesake restaurant in Baldwin Park seems so poorly executed, according to our newest restaurant critic, Besha Rodell, that it's hard to understand why she's pulling so hard for the place.
Juan's [Restaurante] makes all its own masa products — both corn- and cactus-based — plus 12 moles and a roster of labor-intensive desserts. You want to adore a restaurant that strives for such heights. It's a restaurant with all the right goals, an obvious labor of love.
Except that many restaurants in LA make their own masa products and mole. And then there are descriptions of entrees like this:
The restaurant's signature dish, chiles en nogada, was a poblano pepper stuffed with beef and dried fruit and topped with a walnut sauce and pomegranate ... The white walnut sauce had that eerily sticky, intense sweetness given by stevia. The entire dish was like pepper beef in dessert form. Even the handmade cactus tortillas were rubbery and leaden.
The revelation here, like the dawn of a new day, is Mondragon's dreamy mole negro. Described as, "[d]eep brown and glossy as polished walnut, it's rich and intense with hints of nuts and fruit and with an edge of bitter chocolate... like the oil slick of the gods," it's the place's sole savior. [LAW]