Best Brunch

Best Brunch

Best of SA 2013: 4/24/2013
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Food & Drink

Bahia Azul's seafood provides reason to finally visit Artisans Alley

Photo: Josh Huskin, License: N/A

Josh Huskin

Huicholito seafood from Bahia Azul.

Newly opened Bahia Azul occupies the space that old-time patrons of Apple Annie's at Artisans Alley on West Bitters will recognize. More recent visitors to the maze of shops will also recall it as the short-lived Pomegranate Restaurant. The creation of Adrian Bañuelos, hailing from Tepic, the capital city of the western Mexican state of Nayarit, and long-time amigo Sergio Herrera in the kitchen, Bahia aims to introduce locals to the seafood specialties of the Pacific Coast, though the menu also offers familiar basics like humble fish tacos for the less adventurous. The overall decor is little changed from the earlier tenants, but walls are painted sky blue and the ceiling is ringed in blue neon. Plans call for an outdoor patio in the near future.

A nice touch at lunch is the appearance of a complimentary appetizer-size ceviche with chips and saltines (yes, saltines are served in Mexico). Weekday crowds are small, but the lunch menu is quite reasonable, and service is efficient and pleasant. The large dining room seating about 60 had only four couples and a table of Mexican señoras on my visit. Location may well be part of the problem, since the Alley is not near any major businesses or shopping areas and has not really established itself yet as a destination.

But if getting there at midday is not a problem, the visit is definitely worth the drive. Lunch choices, starting at $6.99 (why not round up to $7?) include well prepared and presented Nayarit-style empanadas, corn tortillas stuffed with small shrimp and queso, deep fried and accompanied by the standard black beans and rice. My other favorite is the Nayarit version of paella, a generous plate of shrimp, octopus, baby scallops, zurimi (fish pulp), mussels, and clams sautéed in a seafood broth with colorful bits of carrot, corn, and green pepper and served over rice. It's nicely seasoned, not tangy but not bland, either.

Dinner prices take a leap with paella going from $9.99 to $18, and a few of the specialties like langostinos and molcajete, a spicy fish stew that takes its name from the stone bowl used to prepare mole, top out at $29.95. The sarandeado (or zarandeado) is a staple of Mexican Pacific cuisine (I last had it on the beach at Puerto Vallarta): a good-sized fish, usually snapper, sometimes grouper, split in half from head to tail, rubbed in a tangy chili and garlic paste, and grilled over a mesquite flame. For dinner take a few friends and share several of the Bahia Azul seafood specials. There are a few grilled meat dishes, but why make a trek to eat beef brocheta?

Portions are generous, even by San Antonio standards, so go hungry or take a box home. With no alcohol license yet (guests are welcome to bring their own adult beverages), consider the fresh lemonade. It has a nice tartness. Or bring a nice chilled sauvignon blanc or dry riesling. The oakiness of most chardonnays doesn't sit well with Mexican spiced foods. Better: pack in some bottles of ice-cold Pacifico, the Mexican west coast's best-selling beer.

Desserts are a bit of a disappointment except for the churros de cajeta, the little donuts topped with caramel. But since you'll be more than sated by this point you can take a pass — and dream of that next vacation in Mazatlan, Ixtapa, or Manzanillo! •

Bahia Azul
555 W Bitters

The Skinny
A new twist on Mexican seafood, drawing on Pacific coast traditions. Friendly service, bargain lunches. BYOB until the liquor license is approved.

Best bets
Nayarit paella, Molcajete fish stew, shrimp empanadas.

11am-10pm, Sun-Sat

Lunch menu $6.99-$9.99. Dinners from $13-$29.

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