You’re walking down the street, way out on the fringes of San Rafael, a Colonia in San Miguel de Allende where you’ve never had lunch in your life, and there, peering out from behind the trunk of a laurel tree, you see a sign.
“Check the graphics”, you say to your friend Jim.
“Check the kerning on the type”, Jim says back to you.
“Look at the sign material. I think it’s glass”, I say back to Jim.
“And those stainless steel studs. Nice”, says Jim.
And what does this have to do with how good the restaurant might be that’s behind the sign? I think a lot. Because if you care about what you put on a sign, you probably care about what you put on a plate.
Grille Torres opened a few months ago on Avenida Guadelupe, the street that runs along the west side of the mostly forgotten San Juan de Dios market. And, as the sign suggests, it specializes in seafood and more.
It was early in the morning when that black lettered sign on an ocean blue background caused Jim and my heads to turn. It also caused us to return that day for lunch.
We walked in onto a diagonally laid checkerboard floor, were welcomed warmly by owner Mauro Torres, and handed menus on stylish metal clipboards by Mauro’s wife Theresa. This sure didn’t look like a Mexican start-up. No chairs with Corona logos. No TV with ever present tele novellas mounted in the corner. No garishly glowing Coke cooler. Not one virgin or saint on any wall.
Instead there was some marine art on matte aluminum, including a tasteful triptych of an octopus, a bar topped with nautical prints, a well designed blackboard listing some of the specialities di casa and a lot of very clean lines.
“Nice looking place”, I said.
“Very nice”, said Jim.
The menu is a nod to the most popular Mexican shrimp and fish dishes…Sinaloa style ceviche, pescado a la Veracruzana, Baja style fish tacos, camarones al mojo de ajo…and some seafood dishes with a more international flavor such as coconut shrimp, seafood cocktail, bacon wrapped shrimp and a shrimp po’ boy. For those who prefer their food from land instead of sea, there’s a cheeseburger, a chicken sandwich and a Philly cheesesteak.
One thing on the menu caught my eye. Combinacion Especial di Mariscos. I liked that you got three choices. I liked there was enough for two. And I liked the price, 200 pesos. I asked Mauro Torres to make the three choices for us. And Mauro suggested we add a Caesar salad.
Eating at Grille Torres is a little like going to a stage show. The prep counter and cooking stations are front and center in the dining room and Mauro and Theresa do a little Fred and Ginger as they move from side to side.
I watched Theresa bathe the tilapia in egg and cornmeal; nice batter I thought. I watched the coconut being coated on the shrimp; I should forget that this dish is even a cliche in American chains I thought. I watched the bacon being rolled around the shrimp; is there anything that’s not better with bacon I thought. Things were looking good.
But then I saw this plastic bag come out of the cooler, with processed potatoes. Ouch! Despite the impossibility of growing Russet potatoes in Central Mexico, despite the difficulty of importing good potatoes to Central Mexico, this was a sin just slightly below sloth. I hoped Jim, who is only slightly less food fanatic than I am hadn’t noticed.
The Caesar salad was a very simple version. Light on the anchovies, bacon and Parmesan. But with a lot of very crisp romaine and oil that makes you realize that Grille Torres doesn’t scrimp on condiments.
Our combo plate was good. The tilapia was moist and flaky. The shrimp was firm.
Jim said, “I would have liked a little more garlic”, but Jim (and I) might say that no matter how much garlic there was.
I returned to Grille Torres the following week. A second visit in such a short time is, of course, about the best testimonial I can give. What I really liked was Mauro Torres and the obvious passion he has for everything he creates. When he wields a knife or spatula, he’s part fencer, part orchestra leader, part juggler, part surgeon. His head is constantly buried in his latest creation. Mauro talked about building a big kitchen behind the dining room. I hope not, watching him create each dish is almost as enjoyable as eating it.
On that second visit, Mauro Torres remembered my name and recommended the salmon special.
“It’s been really popular since the day I added it”, Mauro said, “the most successful thing I’ve had on the board.”
It was a good size wedge of fish, two inches at the thick end. Though it was almost definitely farmed and not wild caught, it did have a little layer of tasty fat under the skin suggesting it had come from cold water.
“It’s from Canada,” said Mauro. “I’d guess from the Pacific Coast.”
He placed the salmon on the grill, skin down as it should be, impressing me as every minute or so he checked its progress. When he finally deemed it done, he smeared the salmon with butter and bathed it in dill sauce.
Despite being previously frozen, the texture of the salmon was still firm and the taste very salmony. I couldn’t have imagined better sides, grilled cauliflower, carrots, broccoli, zucchini and green tomatoes along with asparagus.
My first main course at Grille Torres had been very good bar food. My second main course had been very good restaurant food.
Mauro tempted me with some deep fried banana and coconut sided with pistachio ice cream for dessert. I resisted. The table behind me didn’t. When I asked them if I could photograph their fritters, they asked me if I’d like to try one. This time I didn’t resist.
The northwestern Colonias of San Miguel de Allende…Independencia, Olimpo and San Rafael…have been almost void of good restaurants and very few that have tried have survived. I’m predicting that Grille Torres is going to buck that trend.
On both occasions that I’ve been at Grille Torres, as I left, Mauro Torres said, “Have a wonderful day”. The strange part is, when Mauro says it, he actually sounds like he means it. I know both times I’ve been there I’ve enjoyed my lunch. That’s one way to have a wonderful day.
Grille Torres is located at Avenida Guadalupe 38 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They are open every day but Saturday from 10:30 am to 9:00 pm. Telephone 415 115 3027.