Raya at The Ritz Carlton is another restaurant I have not visited in a long time. Due to the lack of time and WAY too many new restaurants opening in southern California, I have only visited Raya twice Since Chef de Cuisine Steve Wan took over. This is my third. My previous experiences with Chef Steve have all been positive, and this is no different. Besides the fact that he’s highly talented, his part Chinese background has something to do with it, at least, that’s what I believe and having him helm the kitchen of a Latin- and Asian-inspired restaurant is genius.
The view is spectacular at Raya but especially so during the early evening where you may enjoy some cocktails while watching the sun setting beneath the horizon. On this particular evening I’m joined by three lovely ladies to experience the new spring menu Chef Steve recently launched at the restaurant.
We start with a botana (or amuse bouche) of Shoyu Salmon, a thick cut slice of raw salmon, gently kissed by heat on the outside, to give it a beautiful color contrast. Accompanied by shimeiji mushrooms escabeche, and one of my favorite condiment of all time, yuzu kosho. The addition of finger lime pearls add a textural contrast to the mix. I love the playful variations of tartness from the shimeiji, finger lime, and yuzu kosho. The flavor combination of tart, salty and spicy, together with the textural contrast of the avocado, sour cream, and the luscious creaminess of the salmon are heavenly!
I’ve eaten Chef Steve aguachiles before so I’m familiar with the next dish of Rock Shrimp Agua Chile. The succulent crustaceans are immersed in a bath of chile coconut lime water together with diced cucumbers, avocado, red onions and the fragrant Peruvian Sweety pepper. I added a squeeze of lime preferring a tarter taste than my dining companions. It is so refreshing and delightful on my palate.
The next course is deemed a favorite by all. Thai Salad of mung bean noodles, black garlic, chile de arbol, and an array of herbs including fresh mint are tossed together in a citrus dressing, and topped with duck carnitas. This is a dish which evokes a familiar ratatouille moment for me, but also, is taken to a whole new level with layers of aromatics and flavors, especially from the duck.
Pan Seared Scallops with char siu pork belly is a perfect main course for those who aren’t able to make up their minds between seafood or meat. The Latin and Asian flavors meld together in perfect harmony with a little hint of heat from the jalapeno cabbage slaw.
Our next course arrives with two entrees on one plate. Seafood lovers may indulge in Halibut, a well executed piece of white fish which arrives on a little smear of boniato purée. Boniato is a starchy tuber best enjoyed together with the corn. On its own, the consistency is a tad too thick. The accompaying tempura pickled jalapeno discs are to-die-for! I’d like an entire bowl of this please!!
Truffled Mushrooms Quinotto is a vegetarian dish of quinoa risotto which has been finished in a shio kombu soy emulsion. What this means is that a broth made from soy milk, kombu kelp, and salt is added to finish the quinoa in, giving it an elevated level of umami. I exclaim out loud that although I love all of the offerings we have eaten so far, this has got to be my favorite. Yes it is vegetarian, but it is mind-blowingly good.
Dessert is a Goat Cheese Flan, which I am not able to indulge in due to lack of space in my stomach. I do take a taste especially enamored by the accoutrements of fried marcona almonds, fresh and frozen blackberries, champagne pickled grapes, and guava verjus. I am especially impressed by the presentation of individual dots from the blackberries. I am told the berries are frozen using liquid nitrogen, then cracked, so the individual bits of the blackberries come apart. This is an innovative and fun dessert on all levels.
Chef Steve’s food is more sophisticated than ever before. Visit Raya before the menu changes yet again to reflect the season. The Spring Menu is good, REALLY good. Don’t forget to make a reservation, as it does get busy.
Raya at The Ritz Carlton
1 Ritz Carlton Dr
Dana Point, CA 92629