Thursday, March 17, 2011

Raya, Seasonal Gastronomy At It's Finest

     When dealing with a restaurant that is located in a hotel synonymous with consistently delivering excellence, it is hard to begin to imagine what to expect when you find out they recently changed their menu to allow a new wave of seasonal cuisine to overtake their guests.

Raya, which is located inside of The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel has been making more waves in the culinary world over the last year than the astounding milieu their diners get to see each and every day. The minds behind the menu of Raya are constantly putting together dishes that simply cannot be categorized. 

For those of you unfamiliar with Raya, please check out our previous feature on the restaurant which gives an overview of the location, ideas behind the menu, Chefs and staff who help entice us to put fork to plate here: Raya, Delivering Tranquility One Plate At A Time.
The only difference this evening was that instead of finding the kitchen being helmed by Chef Howe, I found my stomach being tended to by none other than Chef Marissa Gerlach (who also gave me a quick tour of the kitchen upon being stuffed like a holiday turkey from the insanely tasteful creations we ate this evening.)

Raya has revamped the menu to allow for guests to order a few selections from their “Smaller Plates” menu and share them before ordering a entrĂ©e from the “Large Plates” menu. Starting off with the Chipotle Lobster Bisque, Sea of Cortez Bay Scallop Ceviche and Rock Shrimp Quesadilla I quickly found myself overwhelmed with a trio of amazing seafood appetizers that could easily fill up 2 or 3 people. 
The Chipotle Lobster Bisque is something out of this world as once again the minds at Raya put an unusual but truly delightful twist on the dish by combining black beans, caramelized apples, butternut squash and avocado-yuzu crema fresca to make a dish so velvety and creamy I really am going to ask if I can buy a quart next time I go.

The Sea of Cortez Bay Scallop Ceviche (served with fresh plantain chips) is a perfect example of what can come from a little ingenuity with ingredients. Putting avocado, wasabi, apple, red onion, white soy, lime and white sesame together with mouth-watering ocean fresh salty Scallops is the kind of stuff that sets Raya apart from your local seafood restaurant.

Now as far as appetizers go, I am a firm believer that they can make or break a restaurant. People come to certain locations expecting to be blown away with every plate they see, scent they smell and especially every bite they take. The Rock Shrimp Quesadilla explodes literally with flavor. Oaxacan Cheese mixed with smoked bacon, Togarashi, Avocado Crema, Tomatillo Salsa and Rock Shrimp of course were the ultimate compliment that could paid to the humble Quesadilla. This is something I hope to see remain on their menu even as the seasons change here in California.

Almost completely consumed from what they call “Smaller Plates,” I ordered the Achiote Troll King Salmon which is served over Chayote Squash, Smoked Bacon, Wild Mushrooms, Chipotle Aioli and drizzled in a Achiote Ponzu sauce that took a perfectly cooked piece of Salmon to another level. The Achiote Ponzu sauce gave off a spicy / salty aroma that when mixed with the mushrooms and smoked bacon created an amazing main course only that could only be topped off by the smoothest, creamiest accouterment I have eaten in my life, which were the King Crab Mashed Potatoes.

Stuffed to the gills by this time (and thoroughly enjoying the spicy kick that every sip of my Tamarind-Togarashi Margaritas were supplying me with, I was curious as to if I should even dare to attempt to face the dessert menu. Of course I could not say no when the sampler of desserts showed up featuring a Milk Chocolate Peanut Torte, Mayan-Style Ancho Chili “Hot Chocolate,” Fresh Made Cinnamon Spice Churros, Watsonville Organic Strawberry Salad.

The amount of words that came to mind when taking the initial bites of these desserts were far from few but the first thought I had was Passion.  Many desserts that are served at high-end restaurants taste amazing and use expensive ingredients. But what they often lack is some form of passion that makes them come alive when being served to the guest.
This may come simply from how they are plated, what the actual name of the dessert may be or even better the amount you are served. Raya and more importantly, its promising kitchen staff, have to know that they are creating palate-pleasing pieces of art. The likelihood of finding anything like they are serving, somewhere else is highly doubtful.

Weaving together a selection of rare ingredients found on very few other menus, the flavors culminated inside the kitchen at Raya are somewhat of a must to be experienced in your lifetime.

Check Raya and all of the other amazing sites to be seen at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel out on their site for more information:
                                       Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel



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