The Gossiping Gourmet: A marriage of coastal cuisines

The best way to describe the food at Raya might be "Mexasian." The new restaurant at the Ritz Carlton has been advertised as Latin American or Pan-Latin coastal cuisine, but that doesn't explain the presence of miso black cod with kabayaki sauce, tuna tataki salad with lemon ginger wasabi dressing or ingredients like yuzu, daikon radish, sriracha sauce or kaffir lime leaves. So we have chosen to redub it.

There are a few straight Mexican dishes like lobster tacos or the mushroom or beef huaraches; however, most of the dishes combine elements of Asian and Latin American ingredients. Coastal cuisine here seems to mean the coast of Japan but the blending of these cuisines works in a most fortuitous and flavorful fashion. This unique fusion is the brainchild of restaurateur Richard Sandoval and is executed by Chef Greg Howe

The long narrow dining room, now separated from the main corridor by a sculptured hedge of metal leaves, has a breathtaking ocean vista from the lofty, arched, floor-to-ceiling windows. As the sun sets, translucent curtains soften the light and candles are lit at the tables. The room is both elegant and casual. We relaxed in the comfortable upholstered armchairs, perused the menu and watched the sun drop into the sea.

A ceviche sampler lets you taste both of their offerings, tuna and shrimp. Although traditional ceviches are raw fish cooked by the acid of limes, these break all the rules. The Hawaiian tuna was a cocktail with chunks of silky, jewel-like cubes of ruby fish in a bath of soy sauce with jicama, red onions cilantro, avocado, chili, yuzu and a garnish of puffed rice cereal. The tuna was delicious but the soy sauce was heavy handed and the puffed rice was amusing but odd. The coconut shrimp ceviche had plump rock shrimp cooked in spicy, sweet coconut milk accented with mint and black sesame seeds. The delicately nuanced broth was the star of the dish. The two generous portions were served with plantain and yucca (cassava) chips. The salty yucca chips were as addictive as Lay's. The crispy plantains however, were easy to pass up.

If you think of huaraches only as sandals, think again. They are also Mexican masa flatbreads, which are shaped like shoe bottoms. They were crispy beneath and chewy above, with a distinct corn flavor. You can get them topped with prime sirloin or roasted wild mushrooms. We opted for the fungi, a delicious mélange of mushrooms precisely cooked to retain their texture, which were married with sweet caramelized onions, a touch of black bean puree and chunks of goat cheese with a bit of epazote for garnish.

Our entrée was not of mixed parentage … it was strictly Japanese. Miso glazed cod, the dish of the moment, was served here without the usual poaching broth. The rather small portion of moist, gorgeous fish was glazed with kabayaki sauce and rested on four asparagus crisscrossed with the same number of cooked daikon radish spears. There was an exciting drizzle of lemon aioli with togarishi (cayenne with black sesame seed). Although the fish was excellent, the accompaniments were meager, and strangely, there are no sides on the menu.

On the dessert menu, churros get kicked up several notches. These stick-like, cinnamon-sugar dusted donuts are served with a trio of dipping sauces: citrus anglaise (lemon vanilla custard), dark chocolate with ancho chili and cajeta (caramel). Caramel sauce, usually our favorite, was too thin and lacked the rich deep tones we love. The chocolate was dark and delicious but best of all was the lemon vanilla custard with high and mellow notes to contrast with the churros, which sadly, were not cooked enough to be satisfyingly crunchy.

In the ever-inventive world of culinary fusion, Mexasian may just turn out to be the new hot thing and Mexasian with a Pacific Ocean view is even better!


Where: One Ritz Carlton Drive, Dana Point

When: Breakfast — 7 to 11 a.m., Lunch, Monday through Saturday — 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Sunday Brunch — 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner, Sunday through Thursday — 6 to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday — 6 to 9:30 p.m.


Appetizers: $12 to $18

Entrées: $24 to $40

Desserts: $9 to $14


Bottles: $34 to $640

By the glass: $10 to $23

Corkage Fee: $25

Information: (949) 240-2000

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