For my dad's birthday, we went to Raya at the Laguna Niguel Ritz-Carlton, and I couldn't resist sharing everything with you. In fact, I think our waiter thought my mother was crazy, with her huge camera snapping pictures of everything.
Per the official website, "Raya, named “Restaurant of the Year” by Riviera Orange County in July 2011, is a restaurant concept by acclaimed Chef Richard Sandoval. Raya showcases Pan-Latin Coastal Cuisine prepared with sustainable seafood, local produce, natural and organic meat and Chef Richard Sandoval’s signature Latin flavors."
Yes, there were plenty of Latin flavors, but also a lot of Japanese influences too, with togarashi, kabayaki, and even ramen noodles on the menu. The thing that annoyed me the most, being a possibly anal former English major but also a Japanese American was the fact that "shishito peppers" was labeled as "sushito peppers" on the menu. You'd think such a fancy establishment that touts itself as such could afford a fact-checker.
Okay, had to get that off my chest.
|Top: Mr. Mochi, Mom, Brother. Bottom: Miss Mochi, Grandma, Dad|
The nice thing is all the breads we started with were gluten-free, one a nice cheese corn bread, another a spiced hard cracker-like stick, and a herb brioche. Served with creamy risotto, tomato jam, and goat butter, you would have to watch out about getting full eating too much of this. They obviously don't just serve bread as an afterthought. It's worth going there just for the bread.
|Smoked Swordfish Tacos|
|Raya Caesar Salad|
My grandmother, who I sat next to and it was easiest to steal a bite, got the seafood risotto ($35) which had smooth saffron rice with a whole plethora of fishes: Maine lobster, the biggest prawns ever, Santa Barbara mussels, calamari, dungeness crab, and some Spanish chorizo thrown in. I really liked how the individual grains of rice were not mushy and still had a chew to them, and of course all the seafood was cooked well with nothing rubbery or overcooked like prawns can become, and nothing-not the spices nor the richness-was overdone so you could appreciate the quality of the seafood.
|Dry-Aged NY Steak with Dungeness Crab Mashed Potatoes|
The churros for dessert were soft and pillowy, not too sweet, and served with a Kahlua pudding and coffee ice cream. The dessert sampler (not pictured) was excellent because not only did it have the stand-out churros and Kahlua pudding, but a toffee pudding cake with a delicious fall fruit compote, oatmeal cookie ice cream, and a small slice of caramel peanut chocolate tart. The tart was very rich, but still managed to be tasty and not heavy despite having a lot going on with the caramel, chocolate, and candied peanuts.
|Cinnamon Sugar Churros|
Overall, Raya's dishes were excellent, nearly without fault, and beautifully presented. The menu had the added bonus of hormone-free chicken and beef, sustainable seafood, and about half of the menu was gluten-free. While way too expensive normally for Mr. Mochi and I, for special occasions I can think of nothing better, especially around the holidays. Their giant Christmas trees made the perfect backdrop for photos and their gingerbread and candy diorama is perfect to gawk at after dinner.
|This amazingly is made of candy!|
Raya at The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel
1 Ritz-Carlton Drive
Dana Point, CA 92629