No doubt. Chef Mario Pagán enjoys pushing the limits of culinary experimentation. Raya is no exception. Don’t be fooled by the deceptively simple four-letter name. The plate presentation, the choice of ingredients, and the sauces elevate the experience far and beyond the ordinary restaurant visit.
Hidden in the corner of Barranquitas St., right in front of the Condado lagoon, this distinguished resident of the O:LV Fifty Five Hotel mixes unexpected flavors like blood sausage, pistachio mornay and black vinegar, and architectural drama to create another limit.
“Caribbean and Asian flavors get along well,” Pagán explains of his intention to create a bridge or draw a line (raya in Spanish) between these two cultures. “This was my opportunity to say what I wanted to say. Even the way I plate the dishes was thought out.”
You can tell.
The experience begins from the moment you set foot in the place that takes its name after the manta ray (mantarraya in Spanish). From the cuddly blue velvet sofas to the funky dutch lamps in the waiting room, it feels like you stumbled on a movie set, maybe a James Bond flick or a scene from The Great Gatsby. Black and white marble floors map the way to the small cozy restaurant with towering windows that stare at the shimmering lagoon and the Condado skyline.
On the tables, elegant gold cutlery and golden green plates create a continuum with the sultry chartreuse velvet chairs and sofas. On this Thursday after of May, the sweet, spicy, and floral aromas of the kitchen mingled with the nostalgic voice of jazz legend Chet Baker.
Tuna Poke Pegaíto, Miso Sea Bass, Adobo Kurobuta Ribs, Wasabi Grilled Cheese, and Beet Matcha Ice Cream Cookies are some of chef Pagán newest creations. All served in black lava plates with a minimalist approach, but flirting with texture, lines, and shapes.
Adorned with flowers that add a citric flair and chili and avocado aioli drops, the Tuna Poke is a favorite of Raya’s devotees and newcomers. Served in a round plate, this exquisite dish is a circle within a circle maybe symbolizing wholeness, perfection, eternity or another gastronomic frontier.
Far from the chatty boisterous nature of some restaurants, Raya offers an intimate and relaxed atmosphere where sharing food is a must. But is not just about food.
The bar, created as a second character, offers Sake and Japanese whiskey infused cocktails and a bit of historical intrigue and romance. Two black Sicilian ceramic heads, on each side of the bar, watch the patrons as they enjoy their meal. The heads represent a love story akin to Romeo and Juliet, according to Italian legend.
Like in the Bond movies, Raya is a continuous adventure with chef Pagán always trying new flavor combinations like the Mongolian Skirt Steak stewed in a malt beverage reduction that he recently added to the menu. It doesn’t stop there. Pagán told THE WEEKLY JOURNAL that he is in the talks for a television show devoted to Caribbean food.
“Peruvian food had its moment, Mexican too. Now it’s time for Caribbean flavors, the next boom,” he said.
Raya, which opened its doors in January, has an outside sitting area and prices range from a $14 appetizer to a $36 main plate.
For all its alchemy, this is the place to bring a date you want to impress.