Raraina Fine Dining - Saipan's Queen of French Cuisine
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
Who would have guessed that Saipan is home to one of the region's premier French dining experiences? Raraina is the name of this fine dining establishment located in Saipan's famous Aqua Resort Club, nestled in a verdant garden setting along the coast of Achugao. Raraina means "queen" in the native Chamorro language, and the royal appellation is well-suited to the elegant ambiance and regal service one receives when dining in this exclusive resort restaurant. Although the menu items are French, I believe that the style of dining should reflect Saipan's tropical locale and be called French Pacific. Make no mistake about it, though...this is still a "fine dining" experience, replete with Maitre d'Hotel, candle-lit white clothed tables with plenty of space for privacy, table side Caesar Salad and Flambee preparations, a good wine selection and a trio of balladeers (the famous ARC Trio) who serenade diners with requested favorites. Raraina is certainly the place to go to make the right impression, and especially the destination for that special occasion dinner with that special "someone."
Raraina's menu boasts an exciting and appealing line-up of appetizers and entrees, so many that one has to return a number of times to enjoy the menus broad range of seafood and meat dishes. Starters includes a Venison Terrine with Pistachios and Mushrooms with a Cranberry Orange Relish ($8.00); a Quick Broiled Goose Liver Pate and Smoked Duck on Mesclun Salads and Xeres Vinaigrette ($16.00); Baked Oysters in Champagne ($12.50) and Scallops "Bretonne" ($13.00).
I started my culinary journey with a "Bisque de Homard" (Lobster Bisque, $6.50). Aside from the stunning presentation, it had Avoset cream and was filled with large pieces of sumptuous lobster. Shredded carrot and potato pieces added a nice texture to this rich dish.
Peter, my attentive server, next brought a trolley that carried the large wooden bowl and accompanying ingredients (all in polished steel serving dishes) for my Caesar Salad. He must have spent five minutes whisking and stirring the Egg Yolks, Garlic, Anchovies, Parmesan and other ingredients. The salad is made to taste, so if you want more Garlic or Anchovies, just ask. The Romaine Lettuce is left intact and served as layered full leaves that are coated with the Caesar Dressing and Toasted Croutons.
From the "Entrees de Poisson" (Seafood Menu Courses), I had a "Tranche D'Epandon au Tapenade" (Swordfish Topped with Black Olive Pesto, Tomato & Eggplant Bake, $19.00). This was a notable dish with powerful flavors in a moist, tender swordfish fillet. The plate was garnished with fresh dill and tarragon, and the fillet was set on wild rice. Fresh local Eggplant and Zucchini were roasted to complement this excellent dish.
Another dish I had was Raraina's Loin of New Zealand Lamb in Fine Herbs which didn't disappoint. Perfectly roasted and seasoned, this rich-flavored lamb had ample portions and came with fresh steamed Broccoli and Carrots. A hearty gravy with chunks of roasted cubed veggies covered the bottom of the plate. Of course, a Baked Potato with all the trimmings elegantly displayed rounded out the entree.
The dessert was a home-made Lilikoi (passion fruit) mousse pie with Strawberry Slices and Blackberry and Orange Coulis. This was a fitting finale to an extravagant meal.
Raraina is quite popular among local residents, most of whom consider it to be the island's best fine dining restaurant. It is an ideal venue for business, a romantic interlude or to celebrate a special occasion such as a wedding or anniversary. Raraina exclusively uses Certified Angus Beef in all its beef entrees. The Prime Rib is considered to be Raraina's signature entree with a Ladies Cut priced at $23.50 and the Captain's Cut priced at $26.00. I did have a chance to eat some of the Prime Rib at ARC's Costa Terrace Restaurant during their magnificent Sunday Brunch and I found it to be among the best I've ever had.
Executive Chef Hubert Friedle is the inspiration behind Raraina's fabulous menu and its execution. He has diligently trained his kitchen staff to put out top-quality, award-winning dish presentations that taste even better than they look! A meat dish unique to Raraina is a Bone in Tenderloin Steak (14 oz., for $33.00). This is something I'll have to try later, along with the Bouillabaisse de Raraina.
The Aqua Resort Club is an ideal getaway for those who desire a peaceful, relaxing respite from the busy, hustle-bustle of downtown Garapan (or downtown "anywhere" for that matter!). It is an isolated and remote Eden-like facility with large, high-ceiling rooms and flowers blossoming everywhere. The service staff and amenities are excellent. The Raraina serves dinner nightly from 6:30pm - 10pm.
For an enchantingly delightful dinner that engages your senses, inspires your imagination, and pampers your palate, try Raraina at the Aqua Resort Club in Saipan. It's a dining experience fit for royalty!