Rediscovery: Raya

New chef makes few changes, and that’s a good thing

Pelicans glide by the picture window as we take our seats at Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel’s Raya. This is the ocean view on which five-star resorts hang their crowns.

The open space is bustling, and we wait too long for the bouncy waiter bearing menus. Steven Wan is now chef de cuisine, and there are few key changes on the carte of pan-Latin dishes, trademark of Richard Sandoval, global brand king behind 19 restaurants worldwide. Despite the pan-Latin tag, many dishes mix in Asian ingredients, including yakisoba that stars tofu and cabbage, along with poblano peppers, chile de arbol, and roasted corn. It’s the best $27 bowl of pan-fried noodles I’ve ever had.

Wan executes favorites with precision. Corn soup with islands of fresh crab and a ribbon of huitlacoche recalls the silken stunner that rocked my meal here three years ago. Huarache, light masa under earthy wild mushrooms, goat cheese, and a smear of black beans, is still the ideal share plate. Three lobster-avocado tacos, their floppy flour tortillas held shut with itty-bitty clothespins, disappear instantly. And the tangy Manchego mashers enhance the succulent beef filet with ruddy ancho chile glaze.  

Pastry chef Brian Sundeen’s banana fritters are startlingly elegant. But I confess to stealing most of my mother’s slice of Venezuelan chocolate pâté with glossy Bing cherries and ginger ice cream—it’s as dazzling as the panorama.

Best New Dishes 
Lobster tacos, wild mushroom huarache, beef filet with mashers, banana empanadas, chocolate pâté.

Casual Call 
Before Raya, this venue operated as Restaurant 162, and before that,
The Lobby Lounge.

Valet away! 
Time your reservation 30 minutes before sundown using

The Ritz-Carlton, 1 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Dana Point, 949-240-2000,
Three Stars


Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue.

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