Driving by I-285 at the New Northside/Powers Ferry exit, you can’t miss the twinkling lights in the trees reflecting off the water, and the color-lit enclosed pavilion behind the restaurant.
Ray’s on the River, part of the Ray’s on the Creek and Ray’s in the City triumvirate, was the focus of our dinner, not coincidentally on Father’s Day. Part of the charm of Ray’s on the River is its extraordinary scenic beauty combined with its longevity and predictability for food, wine and service for special, or everyday, occasions.
Part of Ray’s reputation as an institution since 1984 is the fact that it services a flow seven days a week. On the Sunday we were there, 1,000 guests had already dined before the 350 for the dinner crowd. There was neither a wait nor feeling of being with “masses.” Several managers were on the floor with earbuds watching the tables to assure good service that is not rushed but steady. It was also unifying to see one adept experienced server versus mysterious teams that showed up spontaneously with other peoples’ meals.
The scenic beauty of Ray’s is just that spectacular. Inside the restaurant during daylight a light mesh screen covers the windows. At the beginning of sunset, voila, the “curtain” goes up and the Chattahoochee is even more grand. Come early or stay late and walk the grounds. Comfy benches and outdoor furniture invite rambling through the flowers.
It’s not unusual to see geese, turtles or egrets enjoying the grounds. Off to the north end are the newly installed beehives (covered of course). It is also not unusual to witness an outdoor wedding, arches, chuppah and neat rows of white chairs. There are also two areas for diners to eat al fresco.
The Grand Pavilion, connected by an awning where brunch buffets are often held, is also available for private parties. The lighting and dramatic beamed ceiling are magnificent, although capacity is limited to about 110 for a seated dinner with a dance floor. Up to 180 can work with less formality. Also key are the chairs and linens that are “designer ready,” so little has to be brought in other than flowers. Special note: In a merger of “foodies,” Sandra and Clive Bank’s daughter is married to owner Ray Schoenbaum’s son, offering Atlanta Kosher Commission-approved catering by A Kosher Touch on site.
In terms of dishes, our favorite starter was a tender, artsy palette of tuna tataki with sweet and spicy cucumbers and fresh ginger over mustard vinaigrette and ponzu sauce. Salad-wise, the Caesar was fresh enough with savory croutons, but no anchovy zing. Some restaurants ask if you like anchovies and are willing to place them on the side. In contrast, the Fuji apple salad with farm fresh field greens, candied pecans, crumbled Statesboro blue cheese with champagne vinaigrette was indeed special.
For entrées, the Enchanted Trout was a double-sized portion (good leftovers) which was sautéed. Blackened was a nice option. As Ray’s specializes in seafood, they prepare it just about any way you like it. (Hint: consider adding “almandine” for trout). This two-week period included Copper River salmon.
The other entrée, Horseradish Crusted Black Grouper over Swiss rainbow chard in aged balsamic vinaigrette, had some real power and worked alongside a flash-fried Brussels sprouts and cauliflower mixture. Again, enough for leftovers. Note that some of the entrees come with sides and others are à la carte.
For dessert, we tried the Key lime pie done in a light chiffon style, which was a generous portion and rocked mostly because of the delish crushed macadamia nut crust.
The Ray’s Signature Praline Basket was overflowing with a juicy bounty of fresh berries. The praline basket was crispy and true to its Southern heritage. In the middle was “burnt sugar ice cream” which was indistinguishable from regular vanilla, … refreshing just the same, with caramel sauce.
Bottom line: Ray’s on the River has earned its reputation for the city’s most scenic venue. The food and service are dependable, but expect to loosen up on the charge card. Lunch is a less expensive option to get your feet wet. For big eaters, the Sunday brunch, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., could sustain diners for a long while. For another special good time, dance and sip to live music in Ray’s bar area Thursday through Sunday evenings.