Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel is one of my favorite resorts in California. My favoritism is, in part, due to the fact that I have been coming here for as long as I remember. Over the recent years, many changes have come to this Laguna property. Despite my classic response of resisting change in something I love, every modification that this resort has made, I have embraced. Ritz-Carlton has done a tremendous job of modeling their properties to fit their surroundings, to impart the essence of each location into the experience of the resort. As a part of this metamorphosis, the property introduced RAYA last year: a restaurant overlooking a vast and imposing Pacific Ocean, with flavors created by famed Chef Richard Sandoval to fit perfectly with the view. See my entire review of the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel
I recently visited RAYA in the company of friends. The evening was fun, full of laughter and wonderful food. We sampled dishes both on and off-menu; the chef de cuisine, Greg Howe, is creative and playful, sometimes utilizing ingredients that are considered commonplace in an unusual and inventive way. Thanks to his innovation a few of the things we sampled were off-menu.
Like the cuisine, the environment of the restaurant itself is modern and reflective of the Pacific Ocean. Soft blues and grays are paired with dark brown chairs, living in perfect harmony with the setting outside. The “walls” of RAYA double as an artistic accent to the space: flowing steel seaweed creates a division between the restaurant and the rest of the hotel. But the star of the show is the vast window that spans the entire length of the dining room, from floor to ceiling. During the day the landscape is alive with birds, surfers and waves. At night however, a peaceful simplicity encompasses the view with tiny lights that appear to float in the darkness outside, the surf only making an appearance as the waves break. Any night is a good one to dine at Raya, but I can imagine that during the amazing glow of a red tide, the scene is breathtaking.
Our table was situated directly in front of the sea by night. The presentation of each dish was fun and elegant. To begin the evening an appetizer of small tacos made its way out in a long u-shaped serving contraption that lined them up tip to tip perfectly. Dishes featured a wealth of sustainable meats and locally sourced produce. Some of the fare included: Short Rib featuring snake river farms wagyu beef was accompanied by oaxca cheese organic mash, broccolini, huitlacoche-shitake, dragon sauce and hoisin adobo. Later we sampled Roasted Halibut made with truffled boniato, roasted corn salsa, chive oil and crispy jalape?os. For a sampling of shellfish we nibbled on Thai-coconut mussels, breaded oysters and rock shrimp quesadillas. For dessert we devoured a sampling of churros with spicy hot chocolate, strawberry salad with vanilla and chocolate peanut butter with banana. Yum.
Needless to say, I had a wonderful time dining at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel's RAYA. The sum of every aspect: the food, the company, the ambiance and the service all equated to a great experience. I highly recommend making this a dining destination should you live nearby or find yourself in the Laguna area; it is also a gem not to be overlooked should you be staying at the property. This is an excellent location for any occasion, special or not, you will remember a lovely evening.