2 of Orange Counties Favorite Hotels
Ocean View Dining at Raya within The Ritz Carlton
Photography by Barbara Kraft
The Ritz Carlton
Unveiling a Pacific panorama of South Orange County’s ‘Riviera Coast,’ RAYA at The Ritz Carlton [a AAA Five Star Diamond Resort first established in 1984] extends an unforgettable dining milieu for guests – stepped 162 feet above the sand and surf. Chef Richard Sandoval’s Pan-Latin inspired menu – highlighting sustainable seafood and local produce, along with natural and organic meats – is the perfect blend for a winter retreat, a mere 65 miles north of San Diego.
Recently celebrating its first anniversary, RAYA has quickly become synonymous among Southern California’s finest; a sentiment echoed in a panache of accolades, including “Restaurant of the Year” from a local publication.
Imagine driving up to the valet, stepping into the crisp winter air of Laguna and entering The Ritz Carlton with your guests. Its opulent décor and contemporary style gives you the distinct feeling of celebrity status – even just for a moment or for the evening. You are welcomed by the expanse of inlaid marble flooring and a rotunda centerfold reflecting silver leaf tiling; artful displays and fireside lounging draw your attention to westbound views – the very backdrop for RAYA. At more than 150 feet above the sea, this close encounter of the horizon will inspire your senses, while relaxing your mind. The dining room is distinctly set apart from the rest of the resort with sleek steel twisted sculptures. Tall and wide, this steel art emanates luxury and raw emotion, mirroring the breathtaking view of the ocean’s tide; crafted by artists Brad Oldham, the sculpture reflects the drama and sanctuary of a nearby kelp forest.
A dining concept by acclaimed Chef Richard Sandoval – a Culinary Institute of America-trained, Mexico City-native with more than a dozen award-winning restaurants around the globe, RAYA is under the direction of Restaurant Chef Marissa Gerlach; the menu features Pan-Latin Coastal Cuisine prepared with sustainable seafood, local produce, and organic meat in an array of Latin flavors. And without much surprise, RAYA manages its own personal garden located on resort grounds; boasting fresh organic herbs and seasonal vegetables that truly emulate farm-to-table freshness.
Once seated, taking in the sights is only part of the overall experience – as the service aims to please. For the lighter fare they can offer you an heirloom tomato salad, fresh sashimi or a unique selection of lobster tacos – definitely a personal menu favorite. Main course selections feature artful presentations, including: Organic King Salmon with chayote, smoked bacon, wild mushrooms, chipotle aioli and a achiote ponzu sauce; 24 Hour Braised Wagyu Shortribs with oaxaca cheese mashed, gochujang leeks, huitlacoche and dragon sauce; a Vintage Natural New York Sirloin served with dungeness crab potato purée, grilled pickled onions, chipotle hollandaise and a truffle chimichurri; Chimichurri Jidori Chicken Breast with cinderella pumpkin, caramelized apple, wild rice and cavalo negro kale, along with pipian sauce and lime-pomegranate-pine nut salsa. Sunday Brunch features a variety of seafood entrees, breakfast favorites and grilled specialties; begin with a fresh fruit martini and a selection of pastries before enjoying a three-course a la carte menu.
After savoring fine conversation and admiring the coastline’s jagged landscape, do not forget to browse the fabulous flavors of RAYA’s dessert menu. Milk chocolate coconut cake, lemon lime margarita torte and cinnamon spice churros are just a few notables. Not to mention a personal favorite, the almond tres leches – a divine combination of vanilla roast peaches with candied pistachios over Grand Marnier ice cream.
After dinner, guests can continue the conversation with drinks at Bar RAYA, located right next door. Not your typical hotel bar, Bar RAYA affords a lush landscape of lounging, with couches placed in cozy seating arrangements featuring views of the endless blue horizon. Try the Orange Ginger with Absolute mandarin, Gekkeikan sake, orange, lime and ginger or the Ritz Chocolate Martini with Stoli Vanil, dark Godiva, white Godiva and a chocolate drizzle for an added treat.
Ritz Carlton, RAYA
In 2003, the seascape in Laguna Niguel changed dramatically; adding to an already sought after coastal retreat, The Montage has become a world renowned destination. If you are looking for a quick romantic getaway, The Montage is an excellent way to spoil your loved one in style.
With six different venues within the premises of the resort for dining, there is simply no reason to make reservations anywhere else in town. From the casual but elegant Mosaic Bistro, located on the terrace just above the shoreline, to the Studio, the resort’s signature upscale dining restaurant, the selection will not disappoint.
Most recently recognized with top honors from “The Los Angeles Times,” “Mobil Travel Guide,” and “Robb Report,” the Studio is without-a-doubt a leading culinary force. Perched along the bluff with a craftsman-style design, the restaurant features Modern French cuisine with California influences; not to mention ever-changing à la carte menus, private dinners at the Chef’s Table, and an ambitious wine list touting more than 2,500 labels from around the world.
Led by Chef Craig Strong since 2009 [a San Diego-native with former posts at what is now The Langham at the Huntington Hotel & Spa in Pasadena and the Strongewport Room at the Hotel Arts in Barcelona], the Studio features menu selections that hold distinctive flavors, colors and textures; from daily-caught seafood and farm-raised meats and game, to lush artisanal cheeses, fruits and vegetables. The signature venue also welcomes seasonal crops from a private garden near the kitchen, bearing fruit trees, berry bushes, herbs and organic produce.
As noted by Chef Strong, “I first developed a love for cooking at the age of eight, experimenting with tomatoes and zucchini in my family’s vegetable garden, so I am excited to share this gardening passion and the array of fruits, vegetables, and herbs with guests of Montage Laguna Beach.” Todd Orlich, general manager of the resort, echoed the sentiment in that, “The garden reinforces our commitment to the environment and the use of locally grown ingredients, while also enhancing the flavors of our cuisine.”
The Chef’s Tasting Menu affords Seared Ahi Tuna Salad, Steelhead Trout, New Caledonian Prawns and Sautéed Venison Loin. With main course dishes offering Shallot Crusted King Salmon, New Zealand John Dory, Vintage Farms Filet Mignon and Superior Farms Lamb Ribeye. And for a finishing touch, the dessert wine menu couples three flavors in four collections; including Late Harvest, Port, 19th Century Wines and Highland Single Malts.
If you are looking for something a little more exotic, say a rare raw milk Manchego cheese from Spain or a slice of Winchester Aged Gouda from nearby Winchester County [just north of Temecula], you can reserve an intimate cheese tasting at the The Loft restaurant. The interactive cheese bar, showcasing more than 150 varieties from both regional and international cheese makers, is hosted by a talented team of fromagiers, pairing selections with house-made condiments such as Blackberry Port Jelly, Lavender Caramel, Avocado Honey and Nectarine and Cherry Butter. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, The Loft also enjoys breathtaking panoramas of the Pacific horizon, while pampering guests with impeccable service and creative America cuisine.