Through the back of the lobby at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, Raya is a contemporary space flooded with natural light and perched 150 feet above sea level on one of Dana Point’s oceanfront cliffs.
Begin dinner with a selection from the extensive wine list, or try a signature libation from the cocktail menu. The Silver Lining—made with Grey Goose La Poire, St. Germain and lemon—offers crisp, fresh flavors perfect for priming the palate for the courses to come.
The menu is divided between traditional entrees and small plates that guests can mix and match to explore the many cosmopolitan flavors. Chef de Cuisine Steve Wan describes the coastal fare as Pan-Latin, a style that adopts the traditional dishes and flavors of Central and South American cooking with unexpected Asian fusions. When asked about the many fish dishes on the menu, Steve gestures toward the floor-to-ceiling windows that lend a bird’s-eye view of the picturesque beach scene below. The view is more than just eye candy; it inspires a restaurant-wide philosophy that appreciates the fruits of the sea and recognizes the obligation to use only sustainable and organic fish.
Begin the meal with the ceviche tasting, offering two diverse interpretations of the dish and served with plantain and yuca chips. First, taste the slightly sweet sea bass version with tropical flavors such as Thai basil, lime, mango, coconut milk and ginger; then, pucker up with the traditional Hawaiian ceviche featuring ahi tuna, jicama, avocado, ponzu, yuzu and red onion.
Tip: Make a 6 p.m. reservation for a table adjacent to the windows for a leisurely dinner with an uninterrupted view of the sun setting into the Pacific.
For a starter that embraces the Latin specialty of restaurateur Richard Sandoval, opt for the wild mushroom huarache. Named for the flat soles of its namesake shoes, the dish features a Mexican flatbread topped with a warm combination of caramelized onions, truffle oil, black bean paste and goat cheese.
Continue the tour of global flavors with a favorite, the achiote salmon, which exemplifies the Asian flair that spices up the menu. Seasoned with a chipotle aioli, the filet sits atop a fresh slaw made from Chinese greens and chayote (a Mexican gourd), as well as mushrooms and a cauliflower puree. A fragrant sauce with ponzu and achiote (a bright red seasoning commonly used on meat in Central America) is poured around the tower of ingredients after it’s served.
The carrot cake is a perfect choice for the final course. The dessert comes in an artful presentation that turns the expected combination on its head. A cream cheese mousse acts as the bottom layer for the still-warm cake, and rather than a traditional slice, the confection is mashed with summery flavors like pineapple and coconut. A healthy dollop of cream cheese-flavored ice cream completes the plate, offering a familiar taste of home that’s the perfect end to the culinary journey.
Hours: Sunday to Thursday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., 6-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., 6-9:30 p.m.
– Written by Lauren Matich | Photos by Jody Tiongco