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California Cocooning

By Chef Judi Gallagher –

The Pacific Ocean was calling me. The flavors of Spanish fusion were calling even louder and a rest for a long weekend, a book and an Adirondack chair positioned to overlook the most pristine vistas in Southern California were just too much for someone so in need of a few days of relaxation, award-winning food and time to simply enjoy. Thus my cocooning begins.

The Place: Ritz Carlton Laguna Nigel.

The Mission:  Spend two and a half days relaxing days, walking, reading, eating and sipping wine. No laptop, minimal phone and an abundance of pampering. (If you fly into John Wayne Airport in Newport Beach you will pay about $60.00 plus for a taxi to the Ritz Laguna. Well worth it…but ask them to take the scenic route, it is shorter and certainly more beautiful.)

I arrive to a lobby of beautiful, yet simple floral arrangements- bouquets of lavenders and white and pinks. A long walk to my room yields an outstanding view of the Pacific Ocean and soft green rolling hills of a local park. Surfers run down with their boards while families picnic, and I sip my first glass of champagne and open the bag of chocolate truffles I purchased for this moment. A simple walk with stunning views, the climb back up, which is not for the feint of heart, but fear not, there is a golf cart waiting to take me to a long hot bath in my room.

Dinner is a short  walk down the narrow corridors and through the doors outside to 180 Blu. Panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean off Dana Point entice a mesmerizing experience. Fortunately for me, I am perched on a comfortable couch facing Salt Creek Beach on a Thursday night, one of two nights 180 Blu offers freshly rolled sushi. I sip a hand-crafted beverage and nibble shrimp tempura roll and spicy tuna as the sun sets.

It’s 9 p.m. I am tired, yet a marshmallow of comfort, having been in my Laguna cocoon for approximately six hours and not quite ready to let go of a near perfect half day. It is time for a glass of Silver Oak ($25.00 a glass and worth every last tannin) and a cheese plate of creamy Cowgirl’s finest. I saunter to Eno, just off the main lobby.

ENO is an upscale wine tasting room that presents wine pairings, artisan cheeses from around the world and hand-crafted chocolates, (I recommend Eno in Chicago as well). The main design scheme of ENO is a grouping of several communal tables however I opt for anti-social behavior and ask if I may be served at a table just outside the doors, facing the guests entering the hotel as they return from an evening out. Clearly, they missed the memo of cocoon behavior.

I somehow saunter back to my room, satiated with my latest indulgence. The cocoon wraps around every part of me now. I am ready for day two.

Awakened with a pot of fresh-brewed coffee delivered to my room, I listen to the waves and read a newspaper, not scan, actually read a newspaper.

A walk, an iced tea and Tina Fey’s book; Bossy Pants. Life is good and about to get better. It is time for lunch at Raya, the innovative concept by acclaimed Chef Richard Sandoval. The restaurant showcases Pan-Latin Coastal Cuisine prepared with sustainable local produce and natural and organic meats. It also showcases an award winning vista. The culinary experience does not disappoint the matching views as I lunch on heirloom tomatoes with avocado tempura. I must come back for dinner. Magic cannot be eaten just once. It must be experienced over and over. Do that at Raya, please.

I order as if I were three at the table. I eat enough for four. Every bite bursts with exotic flavors and balanced textures.

Hawaiian Ahi Tuna Ceviche – jicama / red onion / cilantro / avocado / chile de arbol / ponzu / yuzu / puffed rice

Pan Seared Sea Scallops – roast corn / sushi rice / nopalito / char siu pork belly / snap peas / white soy mojo

and

Cinnamon Spice Churros – kahlua pot de crème / dulce de leche / coffee ice cream

Then, as simple as the butterfly taking flight, I emerge from my cocoon. A wee bit fragile, but relaxed and inspired, especially since I booked three days next year. Where did I file the reservation? Just look under cocoon.

If you are in need of cocooning before the end of the year, look at these wonderful options.

Oktoberfest Eno-Versity – October 21

Take a tour of German wines and leave with a new perspective about their unique styles. 6 to 7 p.m. / $40 per perso

Thanksgiving Eno-Versity – November 18

Experience the variety of wines that pair perfectly with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  6 to 7 p.m. / $40 per person

Port and Chocolate Eno-Versity – December 2

Experiment with the flavors of different styles of ports and how they enhance the flavors of chocolate.  6 to 7 p.m. / $45 per person

Guests can register for Eno-Versity by calling Resort Services at (949) 240-2000.  ENO is located inside The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, at One Ritz-Carlton Drive, along California’s scenic Pacific Coast Highway in Dana Point.

The resort boasta earning AAA Five Diamond status for the 26th year, the longest in California.

Reservations call 800-241-3333, the hotel directly at 949-240-2000, or visit the web site at www.ritzcarlton.com/laguna.

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