There are a few highly regarded restaurants in Bend that are often considered destinations due to their reputation for upscale dining and upscale prices. Among these restaurants, loyal followers book reservations in advance to save themselves a seat for an experience worth a little extra. One such restaurant is Baltazar's, which I visited for the first time just a few weeks ago.
We weren't celebrating a special occasion, but the atmosphere transformed our ordinary night into a festive evening. The warm, rich colors of the dining room complemented by bright fiesta ware and colorful margarita glasses begged for celebration. There's a certain authenticity about the space itself that took me back to my years living in the barrio presidio neighborhood of Tucson, Arizona, flanked by generations-old Mexican restaurants. And yet there we were, surrounded by a bike shop, smoothie shop, a coffee hut and the cyclopub amid authenticity right here in Bend, against all odds. Baltazar, the owner, greeted us warmly as we walked through the door. We were impressed by the high ceilings and the rich smells coming from the kitchen.
We grabbed a few seats at the bar and started the evening off with margaritas. While my friend checked out Baltazar's Urban Spoon reviews on his phone (glowing for the most part), I considered the promise of Mexican seafood and how good it could be, and hoped that this restaurant would deliver. Our margaritas were excellent ($8-$10). A martini-style margarita for my friend and a hibiscus margarita for me made the stress of the holidays melt away. Large, beautiful margarita glasses held us attentive to our thirst as the menu unfurled, tempting us with one dish after the next as we flipped through the voluminous listings of offerings. We read through the choices while our hands worked overtime keeping up with our invigorated appetites. Between the margaritas and the tri-colored chips and duo of house-made salsas, our night was off to a very good start.
Although we selected at least a dozen items we wanted to try, we started with just one appetizer, the seafood stuffed mushrooms ($10). Three large mushrooms were stuffed with a mix of seafood, including prawns and house-smoked marlin and topped with Mexican melting cheese. Served with a small tomato-and-avocado salad, the seafood was full of flavor and surprisingly light. The smoked marlin was prominent with a great texture and didn't dominate the rest of the dish.
Another round of margaritas arrived along with mix-and-match fajitas with prawns and chicken ($22). The impressive plate came out sizzling with sides of rice, beans, farmer's cheese, corn tortillas and a nice scoop of guacamole. Large prawns were properly cleaned and seared with peppers, onions, garlic, tomato and finished with butter. Much of our meal was finished with butter, which enhances seafood quite well. The shrimp were succulent while the the chicken breast was char-grilled and moist. We built fajitas for each other. One for him, one for me. Two for him, still eating the same one for me. Three for him... waiter?
I ordered the carne asada ($18) for him because I wanted the rest of the fajitas for myself. Or maybe I ordered it because I wanted to try Baltazar's carne asada (kind of like giving a gift that you really want to get). Baltazar's seasons and grills skirt steak to near perfection with subtle hints of what was likely black pepper, garlic, Worcestershire and lime juice. There was nothing short about this skirt! It took up over half of the large plate and was perfectly cooked. Served with rice, frijoles negros refritos (refried black beans), tortillas and garnished with green onions, fried jalapeno and guacamole, the dish met my expectations and was thoroughly enjoyed.
That hope I had at the beginning about this seafood restaurant was fully realized. Balthazar's delivers a unique and delicious menu. There was so much more I wanted to try, the octopus appetizer, the seafood rellenos or the molcajete mixto, a bountiful stew with cactus paddle and choice of sauces. The service was wonderful, well-seasoned and attentive and the demographic of diners seems to be a little older. A happy hour or something geared toward younger diners might acquaint more young people with this gem on the westside. I, for one, am thrilled to have finally found it.
Baltazar's Seafood Restaurant
1465 Southwest Knoll Ave.,