Chef Sanjay Rawat has been a star on the Orange County scene for a while now — despite not having a restaurant of his own or much of a standalone presence at all. Instead, Rawat has found himself in high demand for his boisterous and flavorful Indian feasts, particularly for weddings and annual festivals like Diwali. Technically the chef de cuisine for the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel in Dana Point, Rawat’s food has largely been unavailable to non-event diners and even hotel guests. Now that’s about to change.
In early October, Rawat will debut his first dedicated Orange County restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton. Named Kahani (“story” in Hindi), the restaurant will attempt to give diners a glimpse into the travels and life of Rawat himself, from his upbringing in India to his current fine dining life in Southern California. The restaurant will span 66 seats and sit in the heart of the hotel, serving dishes like saag lobster risotto, curry sampler platters, and cardamom cheesecake for dessert. There will be snacks to start, sweets to end the meal, and everything in between, with Rawat overseeing his own team and kitchen within the greater hotel. It’s a remarkable turn of events for Rawat and a rarity for upscale coastal hotels, considering most places opt to play it safe with all-day American fare or moody dinnertime steakhouses.
The opening of Kahani also coincides with a resurgence in interest in Indian food across Southern California. The new Baar Baar, an import from New York City, offers thoughtful modern Indian food in Downtown LA, while rising star Tulsi caters to the fast-casual crowd with a cluster of restaurants around the area. Los Angeles Times critic Bill Addison recently gave a glowing review to Rajasthani restaurant Bhookhe, while the whole of Artesia continues to grow and evolve.
As of now, Kahani is slated to run from October 7 to mid-December, though it’s likely — given Rawat’s local profile within Orange County’s Indian community and the quality of his food — that the restaurant will run for much longer than that. Rawat will also be pulling double duty, as he’ll be fully in charge of the massive, multi-day Diwali festival at the property, including the big $225 dinner on Saturday, November 4. More information on Kahani, including a link to OpenTable reservations, can be found at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel website.