Raya at the Ritz-Carltzon, Laguna Niguel


View from our table. If you need me, I’ll be right here. At least in my imagination.

Perhaps the most delicious thing I have ever eaten in my entire life was served to me this spring at Raya.

I am only 42 years old, and for most of my life I consumed bland, processed American style foods. It is only within the last ten years that I have branched out a bit and tasted more adventurous flavors. I do this especially when hosted by restaurants, as I was on this occasion at Raya. After all, I figure, these people have gone to great lengths to impress me. I might as well pay them the compliment of tasting their preparations, even if the ingredients are items that I might have shied away from otherwise.

And so it was that on my first trip to Raya several years ago I tasted octopus carpaccio. That dish, I’m afraid to say, was not among the top ten tastes of my life, although it was spectacularly presented and my husband, a seafood lover, was quite impressed.

No, on this evening with my dear friend Melanie (whose tastes are more refined than my own) early last month, at a sunset-side table perched above the Pacific Ocean, tended to by the world’s nicest server and chef, I practically licked clean a bowl of lobster bisque poured over a 63-degree egg, whipped avocado, and spongy cubes of queso fresco.


I do like lobster bisque, but this was unusual, intriguing, and induced groans of delight in both of us. I had not known about the 63-degree egg, that it is a thing in restaurants now like pork belly was a thing year or so ago. It doesn’t matter what thing is en vogue, for me. I just like what I like when I like it.



This is Melanie. She is very happy. I’m making the same face behind the camera.

And everything our server set before us was something I liked, starting with a crisp white wine to toast the sunset, a basket of fresh gluten-free Brazilian cheese bread rolls, spongy delights of airy dough served with goat butter, ricotta spread, and tomato jam. Sea bass and ahi tuna ceviche served with plantain & yuca chips. Rock shrimp quesadillas with whipped avocado aioli and a thick marinara-like salsa.




Sea scallops with pork belly in a pool of sweet creamy polenta with perfect little sprigs of cilantro, snap peas, and heirloom grape tomatoes that taste like spring itself. (These were favorites over the mushroom huarache, whose ingredients were all so very promising, but the combo came up short of its table-mates.)


And because our server knew it would be a mistake for us to have never tasted Raya’s truffle manchego fries, she brought us an entire basket. “Oh well,” we sighed, “it is our job to make room for these, isn’t it?” Somehow we found it, and we were very happy we did. Truffle is a taste I reserve for indulgent moments. Come to think of it, so are French fries. Together, with Raya’s homemade chipotle aioli, they make a most satisfying indulgence indeed.

And then, dessert.

Many superlatives came out of our mouths that evening about the things we put into them, and a lot of those happened during dessert. The California Citrus Torte is served with strawberry margarita sorbet (my favorite dessert flavor among all of this), a thin white chocolate wafer, Veuve Cliquot jello cubes (what?!), lemon grass, and a sprinkle of what looked like white chocolate chips at first but were made out of malted milk.


We also sampled (um, and devoured completely) the sorbet trio: raspberry, passion fruit, and coconut. All three were fresh and delicious and tasted like the embodiment of their names.

Raya delivers the style, service, and taste you would expect from a dinner inside a Ritz-Carlton. If you go out to a fancy dinner only once every few years, do it here. It is an experience you will not forget.

Raya at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel
One Ritz-Carlton Drive
Dana Point, CA 92629
(949) 240-2000
Website and menu