Few, if any, Central Oregon chefs can cook seafood like Baltazar Chávez.
Perhaps that’s because Chávez — a native of Mazatlán, Mexico, and the son of a fisherman — grew up cooking fresh bounty from the Pacific.
He opened his namesake restaurant, Baltazar’s, just over five years ago on Bend’s west side. Today, it is known as one of the region’s best seafood establishments, and not just as a Mexican restaurant.
This is a restaurant that serves not just the standard shrimp, crab and snapper, but also lobster, halibut, scallops, octopus, marlin and giant blue prawns like those he harvested with his father during his teenage years.
It is a dinner house that prepares the seafood not just in tacos and enchiladas, but also in such dishes as tamales and taquitos, ceviche and huachinango Veracruzana.
The prices are high — $25 for a combination platter, for instance — but Chávez notes, “We have to pay for quality. When you see it on the table, you’ll see that it’s worth that much and more.”
The elegant and spacious atmosphere lends itself to casual romance, with its tinted picture windows and low track lighting. Tables are set with bamboo mats and colorful fiesta ware. Silverware carries a fish motif; metal sculptures of sea creatures hang on the walls. There are just 14 tables in the restaurant, with seating for 12 more at an intimate bar.
Attentive and friendly service adds to the positive vibe. On each of our recent visits, my dining companion and I were delighted with the wide smiles of our servers, and by the efficiency with which they took and delivered our drink and food orders.
Scallops and crab
The first time we arrived for dinner at Baltazar’s, we were greeted and seated promptly. Even before our order was taken, we were presented water and a basket of multicolored tortilla chips — red and green, for the colors of the Mexican flag — along with cups of mildly spicy red and green salsa.
We shared an appetizer of callo de hacha, a ceviche-style dish of deep-water scallops marinated in lime juice, served with slices of cucumber and onions. Although the scallops had been previously frozen, they tasted fresh and delicious.
My companion’s seafood tamales were presented in triplicate: doughy cakes of soft corn masa, stuffed with whole shrimp and crab-knuckle meat. Each of the three tamales was topped with a different sauce — a tart green sauce, a cream sauce, a smoky but not-too-spicy chipotle sauce. Pineapple salsa and sliced avocado provided garnish, along with scoops of guacamole and sour cream.
My combination platter (several are offered) was called the Plato Puerto Vallarta. This one included a shrimp enchilada, fish taco and seafood relleno with rice and beans.
In the corn enchilada, chopped shrimp was blended with red and green onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro, avocado and Monterey Jack cheese. The no-nonsense fish taco combined halibut with chopped onion and cilantro in a soft tortilla; it was garnished with red bell peppers, pineapple salsa and avocado.
The relleno — which I thought was the best of an excellent trio — featured chopped prawns, scallops and halibut in a pasilla chile pepper, topped with jack cheese and a creamy sauce. Black beans and white Costeńo rice, served with all entrees, set it off just right.
Shrimp and lobster
On a later visit, we shared several appetizers and a single entree.
Our shrimp cocktail was one of the largest I’ve seen in Central Oregon. Five chilled giant prawns were hooked over the rim of a large glass filled with peppery house-made cocktail sauce, itself blended with slices of red onions, cucumbers and avocado.
A mixed ceviche of shrimp and octopus, “cooked” by marinating in lime juice, was blended with chopped onions, tomatoes, cilantro and jalapeno peppers. It was spooned onto small, crispy tostada circles and topped with avocado slices.
Taquitos de langosta (lobster) are not on the everyday menu. Taquitos de congrejo (crab) are listed but lobster (suggested by our server) is always available on request, according to Chávez. The lobster was rolled into crispy-fried flour tortillas, cooked with tomatoes, onions and cilantro, then topped with mole sauce and garnished with guacamole and sour cream.
This was a wonderful preparation, accented by a delicious mole whose semi-sweet chocolate flavor far outshone the flavors of peanuts and pumpkin seeds, also commonly used in mole sauces.
Our main course was a brocheta mixta, a brochette of steak and prawns. Beef tenderloin was sautéed with onions and bell peppers; the prawns were wrapped in bacon. Both were covered with melted Mexican cheese and served with rice, beans and a spicy fruit salsa.
After the seafood feasts, the steak — though cooked medium rare, to order — seemed a bit tough.
But I’ll cut Baltazar a little slack on this. After all, he didn’t grow up on a cattle ranch.
The grapes have been harvested and local wineries are celebrating. Maragas Winery will hold its third annual barrel tasting on Nov. 26 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission of $10 will be waived for those who bring their own glass and donate three cans of food to NeighborImpact’s Central Oregon Food Bank. Five local farms will provide meat, cheese and other small bites, and cowboy ballad singer Jim Lee will perform. 15523 S.W. U.S. Highway 97, Culver; www.maragaswinery.com or 541-546-5464.
Simultaneously, the nearby Faith, Hope and Charity Vineyard will open its new tasting room with a harvest party from noon to 5 p.m. Nov. 26. Admission of $10 includes a commemorative logo glass, along with wine, food and live music. 70455 Lower Bridge Road, Terrebonne; www.faithhopeandcharityevents.com or 541-350-5384.