Baltazar’s Seafood Restorante & Spirits

Food: Generous servings and outstanding preparations of fresh-frozen seafood and other Mexican dishes

Service: () Reliable, enthusiastic, and universally excellent, often provided by the owner himself

Atmosphere: () Quiet and sophisticated, with marine-related art on the walls and a large patio outside

More Info

Location: 1465 SW Knoll Ave. (at Century Drive), Bend

Hours: 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: Mexican with seafood specialties

Price range: Appetizers $16 to $22, entrees $19 to $36

Credit cards: American Express, Discover, Master Card, Visa

Kids’ menu: Several $8 choices

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Tamales, burritos, quesadillas and fajitas may be made meat-free

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Outdoor seating: Large enclosed patio

Reservations: Recommended

Contact: BaltazarsBend, 541-382-6622

There aren’t many good seafood restaurants in Central Oregon. This, of course, is partly because Bend is no less than four hours’ drive from the Pacific Ocean. But it’s also because good seafood doesn’t come cheap.

As the son of a fisherman from Mazatlán, Mexico, Baltazar Chávez considers quality more important than price. His 11-year-old restaurant on Bend’s west side may be the most expensive Mexican restaurant in the region, but it also is certainly among the best.

In fact, I don’t even see Baltazar’s Seafood Restorante as a Mexican establishment, per se. I consider it a seafood restaurant with south-of-the-border style.

In this market, $32 for a shrimp dinner may seem to be pushing the envelope a bit. But consider: Portion sizes at Baltazar’s are so large, you’re practically guaranteed a full second meal of leftovers.

What’s more, you won’t be trying to make a meal from tiny bay shrimp, or even average-sized prawns. His Pacific blue prawns, fresh frozen and imported from Mazatlán, are wholesale priced at $23 a pound. There are between six and eight of the “U8” size shrimp per pound, and Chávez guarantees five of the crustaceans on every dedicated dinner plate.

Thus, half the price of the meal is invested in these jumbo shrimp, without even accounting for the other ingredients or the labor involved in preparation and serving.

The same is true for his premium ahi tuna: Chávez pays more than $31 a pound and charges less than that for a seared tuna dinner.

Excellent food

Of course, the ultimate test of any restaurant is in the quality of food. And I’ve never yet had a bad meal at Baltazar’s.

My companion and I began a recent meal with margaritas. (There’s that Mexican flair, remember?) They come in small, medium and large sizes, and they are made not with a pre-made mix, but with fresh-squeezed lime juice, which makes all the difference in the world. A wide choice of tequilas is available in the intimate, eight-seat bar, including a special release of the Herradura brand made in limited quantity for Baltazar’s.

I ordered a dinner of Camarones Mexicanos. My jumbo prawns — and yes, there were five of them, served tail-on — were sauteed with large white mushrooms, red and green bell peppers, onions and other vegetables in a seasoned white-wine sauce.

They were served, as are most dinners here, with white costeño rice (coastal style, with chopped vegetables) and refried black beans (topped with a slowly melting wedge of cotija cheese).

My companion’s tuna, seared medium rare, came with a house-made salsa of corn, pineapple, carrots, celery and cilantro. It was accompanied by sliced avocado and a chipotle-mole sauce that was mild enough to enhance the flavor of the fish without overwhelming it with spicy chilies.

On other recent visits, I’ve had occasion to sample the restaurant’s Plato Cancun, a savory blend of prawns and scallops with flaky halibut cheeks, sauteed with mushrooms, carrots and celery in a creamy chipotle sauce. And a single jumbo prawn appetizer — stuffed with Dungeness crab, cream cheese and garlic, wrapped in bacon and cloaked in a chocolaty mole Poblano — was memorable. This dish was chosen the best of the Tour of Homes on two occasions last year. In fact, it didn’t need the bacon to boost the flavor.

If there’s a fault to Baltazar’s preparations, it may be a lack of the chile-powered tang more typical of traditional Mexican restaurants. There’s a simple solution: Diners may request extra spice when they order.

Mood and service

The atmosphere is quiet and sophisticated, with tropical marine art — metal turtles and sailfish (Baltazar’s logo) and silk-screened paintings — hanging on the walls of the 60-seat dining room. Contemporary Mexican music shares the background playlist with easy-listening American music. Outside, a sculpted pair of large, laughing pelicans stand as the centerpiece of a spacious, fenced, concrete patio.

Service is universally excellent. Whether delivered by Chávez himself, by brother J.C. Chávez or by another server, I find it consistently not only reliable, but enthusiastic. Whether taking drink and food orders, delivering them with reasonable speed or checking back to be certain the meal meets a diner’s liking, they are always aiming to please.

On our most recent visit, my companion and I made it a point to try some of the non-seafood items on the lengthy menu. We opted for two standards of Mexican dining: carne asada and chicken mole.

Both were excellent. The carne asada (literally, “roast meat”), a tender skirt steak, had a wonderful char-grilled flavor complemented by servings of guacamole and pico de gallo. And the fat, roasted jalapeño pepper was not overly spicy. The chicken was similarly tender and served with a rich Poblano-style mole sauce, featuring chocolate and mild chile peppers as well as cinnamon, almonds, pumpkin seeds and a dozen other ingredients. Both dishes came with beans and rice.

Next month, Chávez said, he plans to introduce a new menu featuring a broader selection of sharable small plates, from salads and vegetable dishes to calamari and breaded oysters. No doubt, these tapas-style options will help to mitigate some diners’ concerns about menu prices.

— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at .