I wrote what’s written below back in early March when San Miguel de Allende was still open for business. The “gentlemen who lunch” met at Crow that day to experience two very different but very tasty cantina specialties that are virtually impossible to find anywhere else. Crow was one of the first restaurants to close its doors during the pandemic, just a few days after our lunch, but I thought I would still share a description of those dishes. Crow was located on the third floor at Hernandez Macias 43B. Here’s hoping I will soon be climbing those stairs again.
Should I or shouldn’t I tell them? What a difficult decision. If I did tell them, no one might touch them. If I didn’t tell them, they might cut mine off when they found out.
There were fourteen of us. All guys. We were at Crow, a relatively new place that calls itself a Cantina Contemporanea. Visually, the place is far too pretty to be considered a cantina but Crow has captured some of the spirit of the traditional Mexican watering holes with their menu. Two items, particularly, caught my eye. One was the course we started our lunch with.
Chef José Ramirez artistically ties them up with chitterlings first, into what look like fat sausages. He then boils them, slices them about a quarter inch thick, crisps them up a little in the deep fryer, then plates them with fried onions and poblano peppers.
They go by a lot of names: ballocks, family jewels, cojones, rocky mountain oysters, gonads, cullions, acorns, swamp nuts. Crow Cantina Contemporanea calls them machitos.
I’m sure you recognize a few of those words. The guys were dining on testiculos de borrega; we were eating lamb testicles.
I decided to wait until everybody had eaten at least one, wait until most guys were on their second, when I threw out the question.
“So what do you think we’re eating?”, I asked.
“I’m not sure but they sure taste good”, said Steen Madsen.
“I’m going for prairie oysters”, said Peter Ross.
“You got it”, I replied.
Some guys paused and took a closer look at what was on their fork. A couple of guys put their forks down completely. Most of us just kept chowing down. I know that I ate six.
So what are machitos like? In texture, the closest thing would be a scallop but a scallop with a crisp on the outside. In taste, they were somewhere between a veal kidney and a lamb sweetbread. In general, I’d say that if you like the hearty taste of offal, you’ll love them; if you don’t, you may instead consider them awful.
Our next course at Crow was very non-cantina but very appropriate for preparing our palate for another unique specialty that you won’t find anywhere else in San Miguel.
The interim course was a salad, the seldom-seen-anymore pear and spinach salad, this time with Danish blue cheese, cranberries, pecans and a strawberry honey dressing. I especially liked that the spinach had some age and taste, unlike the baby leaves that are usually used today.
Our finale was another unusual cut of meat and another that Chef José told me you might find in a Mexico City cantina “but you’d have to look really hard”.
Crow calls it pecho de ternera al horno which I translate as oven-roasted veal brisket. Unlike brisket, however, when the chest of a young cow is prepared, it usually includes the ribs from this area. I’d seen the cut in Jewish dishes and in Italian dishes. I’d never seen it in Mexican before.
“It spends five hours in the oven”, Chef José told me. “It takes that long to make it really tender.”
The pecho was fall-apart tender and wonderfully spiced. The dryer, crispier skin portion was a nice contrast to the juicy flesh. I love the excitement that comes from discovering a brand new dish when you’re already in your golden years. It was one of those special foodie moments that only happen a couple of times each year.
It was Thursday afternoon when the fourteen of us got together for lunch. We were the only customers in Crow Catina Contemporanea that afternoon. Which was a shame.
I think José Ramirez is one of San Miguel’s most talented chefs.
The service that day from manager Alejandro and his staff was superb. You might not find a nicer setting and atmosphere to enjoy Mexican classics like chamorro, pozole or pancita. And this is absolutely, definitely the classiest cantina in town where you can sit and eat free botanas while you’re perched on a barstool.
So why is no one there? The usual problem, location. Crow is only four blocks from the jardin, action central in San Miguel de Allende. But it’s lost on the third floor of a bowling alley of a building. It’s hard to knock the municipal regulations that restrict new businesses in centro to a small brass plaque but, without a major media spend, little gems like Crow are going to fly away.
And if the Crow does take to the wing, there’ll be no more machitos in San Miguel. And I’m sure you know what they say about guys who don’t have any, what are they called again, machitos.