OK, Grille Torres is a little out of the way. But only a little. In fact, it’s only seven blocks from the jardin. I counted last week when I went for the cazón.
I like Grille Torres. A lot. And it’s not exactly a foodie restaurant. Reasonably common dishes actually. But common dishes done uncommonly well. So location must be the only reason why there’s always a lot of lonely chairs. Except for last week when we went for the cazón.
Cazón. Dogfish shark if you want the other, much less glamorous, name. A fish I thought you’d only find in a restaurant in the states of Yucatan or Campeche, where the shark is layered with tortillas and black beans to make a lasagna-style dish called pan de cazón.
But at Grille Torres, chef Mauro Torres and his wife Teresa are serving the cazón in one of Mexico’s contributions to the short list of the world’s great sauces. A sauce from the Caribbean Coast. Chef Mauro is serving Cazón a la Veracruzana.
Cazón or dogfish are a small shark. Squalus acanthias in Latin which, yes, comes from the same root as squalid. They can grow up to 200 cm. but they’re usually only about 40 cm. in length when caught.
At that size, they are still big enough to have mighty molars that could take half a hand with a single snap. Cazon can be found in the Pacific and Atlantic and as far away as Europe where, in Britain, they find themselves in fish and chip shops disguised as something called rock salmon.
There were a lot of sharks…pool sharks, a couple of card sharks, maybe a loan shark…fourteen of us in total last week at Grille Torres for the cazón lunch but, when you go to Grille Torres, it’s almost essential to start with the shrimp. There may be no better place in San Miguel de Allende to start with shrimp. And Chef Mauro put three of his best on each plate for us.
The first shrimp was very simple. A little salt, pepper and lime and then flash fried with peppers and onions so the taste of the firm flesh was front and center.
The second was probably Grille Torres most celebrated shrimp. It’s wrapped in bacon with a sliver of cheese and served in a pool of sauce with a nice chili hit.
The third shrimp was coconut. Not usually my favorite but this one is not too sweet and has a feather light crust. The pineapple sauce is a cooling compliment.
Malcolm Nickerson summed up our opinions when he said, “I don’t even care about the shark. I’m coming back for the shrimp.”
Grille Torres buys their cazon frozen. Now I’m one of those old-fashioned…or maybe it’s just old…guys who still believes that fish loses a lot, both in texture and taste, when it’s frozen. But I do make exceptions. And that’s for those fish with firm (not flaky) flesh. Tuna, swordfish, grouper, cazon. I don’t think I could tell the difference between fresh and frozen cazon.
Chef Mauro fillets the shark and, then, when he’s doing it a la Veracruzana, places it in a foil package. Every chef’s Veracruzana is a little different but I know that Mauro’s has tomatoes, cauliflower, peppers, broccoli, zucchini and, with the help of his daughter Citlali, the most essential olives and capers.
It’s then into a very hot oven for about ten minutes and, finally, a plating with the traditional beans and rice.
And how did the cazon taste? Well cazon is a very meaty fish. It’s the fish I would use to convert the person who never eats fish. It’s the fish that, recently, when we were eating it at home (La Isla at Mercado Sano sometimes has it), Don Day’s Wife said, “was almost like eating pork”.
Traditionally, Pescado a la Veracruzana is made with huachinango (red snapper in English) but I think the taste of the fish gets lost in the sauce. Cazon, on the other hand, has enough flavor to be complimented by the sauce and Grille Torres preparation keeps the fish firm and moist.
As we moved on to dessert, an imaginative combination of key lime pie and banana fritters, Gary Cook made a short speech about how charming the decor of the restaurant is and how fortunate he felt that he’d discovered Grille Torres.
Seven blocks. About ten minutes. That’s all it might take for you to discover it. And perhaps discover cazon at the same time.
Grille Torres is located at Avenida Guadalupe 38 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They are open every day but Thursday from 10:30 am to 9:00 pm. Telephone 415 115 3027.
With thanks to Yannis Dettingmeijer for his photos (his are the good ones).