When Roberto Anaya and his brother, Carlos, split up their El Caporal restaurant group in 2006, they faced a question of title.
It sufficed, for a while, to refer to Bend's east-side location as El Caporal East (owned by Carlos, along with El Caporal restaurants in Sunriver and Tumalo) and Bend's downtown location as El Caporal West (owned by Roberto, who is also the co-owner of El Jimador).
But in February, after El Caporal West had briefly closed and renovated, Roberto decided that it was time to give the restaurant a name of its own: It became Amanda's, after his daughter.
The renovation reduced the size of the restaurant by about one-third. In renewing his lease on the space, at Franklin Avenue and Bond Street, Roberto saved money by vacating an underused second lounge and group-dining area. Amanda's still seats about 120 patrons indoors, and perhaps another 20 outdoors, so the space may not be missed.
Above the new wall where guests once entered the lounge are two large flags exalting University of Oregon and Oregon State University athletics. A golden-yellow color scheme is accented by rust-colored beams and rafters; a few framed prints hang on the walls. Mariachi and contemporary Hispanic music plays in the background.
But I am confused by the restaurant's new slogan: “Mexican cuisine ... with a twist." I didn't notice any significant changes in the traditional Jaliscan menu, none of the contemporary touches evident at Hola!, La Rosa or Amalia's in Bend.
“We put things on blackboard specials that aren't usually served in Mexican restaurants," he explained. “Sometimes we have pastas and burgers." On the day of my first visit, however, the special was chili Colorado, a common Mexican dish.
Indeed, I find Amanda's service to be far better than its cuisine, which I have sometimes enjoyed but more often found no better than ordinary.
Both at lunch and dinner times, I was seated with great haste by a hostess and quickly presented with fresh drinking water and a menu by a smiling server. On each occasion, my order turned up fewer than 10 minutes after I had placed it.
But after a pleasing bean dip served at each meal with complimentary tortilla chips and red salsa, the food failed to impress.
I was joined by my regular dining companion at dinner. She ordered a combination plate called the Tampiqueña, which combined carne asada with a chicken-mole enchilada, rice and beans.
Carne asada (literally, “grilled meat") is made with slices of flank steak. Cooked rare per her request, my friend found it tender and tasty. I had a bite and thought that it was overly salty, but I am more sensitive to that flavor than she is. It was served with guacamole and pico de gallo.
The enchilada was covered with a red mole sauce, made with less chocolate and more tomatoes and chile peppers than traditional mole. My companion described it as having a mere hint of the mole poblano flavor commonly found in Mexican restaurants.
My entree choice was a chimichanga Veracruzana — a large, warmed flour tortilla folded around seafood typical of Mexico's Gulf Coast region. White fish (possibly tilapia), small scallops and bay shrimp gave it the fishy flavor of recently thawed seafood. Larger prawns were concentrated at one end of the chimichanga; accented with sour cream and guacamole, this was the tastiest part of the dish.
Both entrees were served with moist Spanish-style rice (cooked in broth with bits of frozen vegetables) and refried beans (topped with Monterey Jack cheese). Neither was unpleasant, but both were standard issue for most Northwest Mexican eateries.
Returning for lunch a few days later, I chose a chile verde meal. A dozen tender chunks of pork had been simmered in a peppery green sauce made with tomatillos and green chilies. I enjoyed the meat, but I would have preferred a more complementary choice of either black or pinto beans over the standard refried beans and rice.
Unfortunately, my friend's pork tostada was not at all to her liking. Part of the problem was that it came not with tender shredded meat, or machaca, but with chile verde. Chunks of meat in a tomatillo sauce were served on a small, hard-shell corn tortilla, only part of which was spread with refried beans. The only other ingredient was shredded lettuce; there were no tomatoes, no olives, no cheese, no sour cream.
On the plus side of the ledger, lunch prices ($7 to $12) are much more moderate than those charged at dinner, and for nearly as much food. Most evening entrees top out at $20, although there are a couple of $30 listings that include lobster.
That's a lot for a Mexican restaurant. I realize that fresh seafood is expensive, but I wonder if Roberto Anaya is trying to match the sums charged by his El Jimador partner, Baltazar Chavez, at the latter's gourmet Mexican seafood establishment, Baltazar's, on Bend's west side.
I also question the decision to rename the restaurant Amanda's. It's lovely to honor one's child in such a manner, but it is a baffling choice only because there is another unrelated Mexican restaurant, named Amalia's, two blocks away. Already I have heard patrons express confusion between the two.
Tickets are now available for Dinner on the Range at the annual Ghost Tree Invitational, scheduled for 5 p.m. Aug. 25 on the Meadows Golf Course adjacent to the Sunriver Lodge. Central Oregon restaurants scheduled to participate in the event include Brickhouse, Hola!, Level 2, 900 Wall, Pine Tavern, Victorian Cafe and 10 Below at The Oxford Hotel; executive chefs from Black Butte Ranch, Seventh Mountain Resort and Sunriver Resort; the Deschutes and 10 Barrel breweries; La Magie Bakery and Freckles Cupcakes.
Guests pay $125 per person to enjoy food, drinks and a stage show by California dance band Night Fever, and to mingle with celebrities including actors and professional athletes. Central Oregon Magazine is the sponsor of the event, which benefits the St. Charles Health System. 541-317-4700, www .ghosttreeinvitational.com.