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Atlanta Revisited: Ray’s on the River

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Sometimes you go for the atmosphere, and sometimes you go for the food. Last week we introduced “Atlanta Classics” — a new feature in which Jon Watson takes a non-critical look at beloved institutions. This week marks the debut of “Atlanta Revisited,” where Jenny Turknett offers  assessments of longstanding restaurants to let you know if they still merit a visit.

Thanks for reading — John Kessler

A Google search suggests that the average life span of a restaurant is five to 10 years.

Review by Jenny Turknett

Review by Jenny Turknett

If that’s true, a 28-year-old restaurant must have a formula for success. Ray’s on the River opened in 1984 and has aged gracefully over that time. The restaurant, a seafood and chophouse, is known for its long stretch of frontage on the Chattahoochee River, with steppingstone paths meandering through a landscaped paradise and benches offering picturesque views.

In 2007, on its 23rd birthday, Ray’s on the River received a major face-lift. The result was a highly polished interior with glossy dark-wood accents, dark-patterned fabrics and dark-striped carpet. The feeling is decidedly corporate, a contrast to the romantic river view but perfect for the business crowd that frequents the restaurant for weekday lunches and dinners. This is the clientele that can expense wine from the extensive California-heavy (though not exclusive) wine list with bottles that can range from $30 (Beringer White Zinfandel) to $750 (Colgin Estate, IX Red). This is also the clientele that expects the high level of service that Ray’s strives to provide.

Grilled Gulf grouper with salsa cruda (photos by Becky Stein)

Grilled Gulf grouper with salsa cruda (photos by Becky Stein)

Over its history, many chefs have passed through the kitchen at Ray’s on the River. Chef Josh Warner now leads the kitchen, having been promoted from sous chef to executive chef in October. Warner’s experience includes working with Karen Hilliard at Georgia Grille and Scott Serpas at Sia’s. He describes his role at Ray’s as “a caretaker of classic recipes.”

The formula for success of a restaurant with a long history must include balancing signature (and at times, dated) dishes with innovation. For example, Warner says the broiled seafood platter ($38) may not represent his style, but it’s what many guests expect when they come to Ray’s on the River, a sustainable seafood spot known for having its own temperature-controlled fish house.

Warner has, however, tweaked some of the classics at Ray’s. For example, the New Orleans barbecue shrimp appetizer ($10), with a tangy and spicy butter sauce made with lager from Red Hare Brewing Co., now comes accompanied by two triangular grit cakes. Good call, Warner. The creamy Boursin-laced grits with a lightly fried crust are easily the best component of the dish, balancing the sauce’s spice and mimicking its decadence.

Warner also tinkered with the Guinness-marinated pork chop ($26), a recipe resurrected from Ray’s in the City. He added a smoky sweet maple and whole-grain mustard sauce, which works wonders to make the tough meat of a well-done (rather than the medium requested) chop ingestible.

Ray's shrimp and grits: try not to drink the sauce

Ray's shrimp and grits: try not to drink the sauce

And speaking of sauces, let’s chat about the drinkable one served on the shrimp and grits ($15). But first, do you like sherry in your she-crab soup? If not, skip ahead. If so, stay with me. Think of Logan Turnpike grits cooked in cream and broth with a contrasting pop of sweetness from the cream sherry sauce. Add caramelized onions, long strips of roasted red peppers and a little heat from the shrimp sauteed with garlic and chili flakes and you’ve got the picture.

A sauce might have also been in order for the grilled grouper fillet ($28), which our server told us was one of the most popular items from the “seafood market” section of the menu. Despite having a lovely grilled flavor, the grouper had an unpleasant chew. The salsa cruda, made with herbs grown at the restaurant, added a nice freshness but did little to distract from the bouncy texture.

Warner has added new items to the menu, such as herb-grilled lamb chops ($32) and the ahi tuna tataki ($14). The lightly seared sushi-grade ahi rubbed with a house-made blackening spice is one of my favorites here. The meaty slices of tuna dipped in the slightly soy, lemon and mirin ponzu sauce paired with a vinegary pickled cucumber salad play a fun little game of sweet vs. tart.

I’d like to see Warner tackle dishes like the panko-crusted Parmesan scallops (what Parmesan?) with lobster risotto (what lobster?) ($32) that offer little flavor. We may just see that happen. Warner continues to update the menu and is rolling out a new one in the coming months. He says he is trying to add lighter dishes and minimize the heavy mashed potato presence on the menu.

While “not cutting-edge” by Warner’s own admission, Ray’s on the River attempts to remain relevant while balancing its history and guests’ expectations. But one thing’s for sure: The restaurant has a formula for success, and it includes a breathtaking view.

Ray’s on the River
6700 Powers Ferry Road N.W., Sandy Springs, 770-955-1187
2stars5
Food: Seafood and chophouse
Service: Professional
Best dishes: Ahi tuna tataki, shrimp and grits
Vegetarian selections: Salads, pasta marinara
Credit cards: All major credit cards
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays, 12-3 p.m. and 5-11 p.m. Saturdays, 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Sundays
Children: Yes, especially if well behaved
Parking: Yes, valet available
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair access: Yes
Smoking: No
Noise level: Low to moderate
Patio: Small seating area
Takeout: Yes
ratings_key_febUSE

51 comments Add your comment

Kitty

July 26th, 2012
6:47 am

Do your homework. Rays had a health inspection rating of 50 in June. Will never eat there again.

Scooter

July 26th, 2012
8:38 am

Ray’s certainly has a special appeal on the Chattahoochee. In 2003 they were asked to pour fake french wine into that river, rather than the real stuff that damages the aquatic habitat. Unfortunately they chose to pour out the real stuff in spite of the damage it could cause. That kind of disregard for living systems should not bode well for them.

Sideline Dude

July 26th, 2012
8:44 am

I wasn’t impressed. Won’t go back.

Kristen

July 26th, 2012
8:54 am

Had such a terrible experience there two years ago – service and food were both horrendous – that I will not go back, especially at that price point. Thank goodness for Canoe.

Sluggo

July 26th, 2012
9:02 am

“The feeling is decidedly corporate”

Exactly,from the feel of the room to the food on the buffet. It feels like a catered event for a corporate meeting.

Veggie

July 26th, 2012
9:19 am

I thought the revisited reviews weren’t going to be rated.

Winemaster

July 26th, 2012
9:22 am

Ray used to do a good Job during Sunday Brunch, and some Friday happy hour , but those days are long gone. Now it is just another Restaurant , with BS wine price list and over priced unhealthy food.

BG

July 26th, 2012
9:36 am

Wow to seven people really hate Ray’s. I’ll bet at least three of these are from one person.

N-GA

July 26th, 2012
9:37 am

My daughter’s wedding was on the banks of the Chattahoochee at Ray’s on the River. Fortunately Ray’s is still there….and the marriage is history!

jeff

July 26th, 2012
9:38 am

Made resevations 2 months in advance for our anniversary dinner and requested a table at the window and was told that they could not guarantee it. Had to wait 1/2 hour past our reservation time to be seated, Service was lousy, though the food was good, but not good enough to go back. I will stick with Bones, where the food and service were both Excellent and our simple requests were met without hesitation

Cobbian

July 26th, 2012
10:16 am

Went for a rehearsal dinner a few years ago and the food and service were absolutely atrocious. Just kept thinking “I’m glad I didn’t pay for this crap.”

Mark

July 26th, 2012
10:35 am

I guess it’s true that only people that have a bad experience bother leaving a comment. Geesh – this place has been here for almost THIRTY years! How could it POSSIBLY stay in business if it wasn’t good? The people eating there today for the most part aren’t simply the same people that ate there 30 years ago. That means that NEW people actually visit and then become regulars. I can’t equate these facts with the 2 stars given by the article and the comments left by people who unfortunately had a bad experience.

And no, I don’t work at Rays. I did take my wife to her prom there more years ago than I’m willing to admit. I’ve eaten there and at the Ray’s in the City many times.

Scott

July 26th, 2012
10:49 am

Enter your comments here

Glenn

July 26th, 2012
11:23 am

A group of eight of us dined at Ray’s on a Saturday evening three weeks ago. It was the first time my wife and I had been there in nearly 10 years. The makeover from 2007 was impressive with the new bar area more central as opposed to taking up much of the river view area. That view is now reserved for diners, from virtually every vantage point in the restaurant. We had a few mistakes on service, but generally not too bad. As for the food, I think those in our group who ordered seafood were happier than those of us who did not. I ordered the prime rib medium rare but when delivered it was medium and a bit tough at that. My wife ordered the signature chicken dish which was quite plentiful with two large breasts, but she stated it did not have a lot of flavor. I think your 2-star rating is fair. I would not rush back from 25 miles away, but if I happened to live nearby, I’d give them another try.

A. Monk

July 26th, 2012
11:39 am

Here’s the thing:

How does the Health Department not close down a restaurant with a score of 50 ???

I walked out of a Sandy Springs Chick-fil-a the other day when I saw they had a health inspection score of “only” 90.

RK

July 26th, 2012
11:48 am

The menu is quite boring, but I had a great salmon special with a vanilla beurre blanc sauce the other week. If they allowed the chef to do more, I’d visit more often than every few months, considering I can walk there.

BTW, the tuna tataki has been there for years (I know, because we get it every time).

[...] News here – Food and More with John Kessler ← TEXT-S&P summary: Atlanta Gas Light Co. – Reuters Cancel [...]

Deborah

July 26th, 2012
12:24 pm

The food has never been that special, but I love the location and scenery.

donkey200

July 26th, 2012
1:27 pm

2 stars is way too generous. I used to work there years ago. Would you like some worms in your fish? Cruddy place then and still is now. I can say this from experience. Don’t waste your money. Mark, it’s called Expense Accounts! Duh.

carla roqs

July 26th, 2012
1:56 pm

ray’s was THE date place in the 80’s, and I loved walking around the little “lake” area. hit ray’s in the city a couple of months ago- their she-crab soup has had a make over that does not work.

Kitty

July 26th, 2012
2:09 pm

A. Monk-they WERE closed down until they passed a new inspection. It was reported on AJC which is why I was surprised there was not any research done before this article was written.

jack trent

July 26th, 2012
2:10 pm

why does article say by john kessler, yet jenny’s picture is on there? i guess the blog administrator got lazy this morning.

victor

July 26th, 2012
2:14 pm

Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesdays et al all have been around for years, does that mean it’s good? No, people are creatures of habit and convince themselves it’s good. Ray’s is a chain that serves chain food. Let’s face it, nobody with real taste eats there. This blogger is probably friends with their PR and wants to put this back on the radar even though they’re not relevant anymore except with tourists and 50+ crowd.

crackbaby

July 26th, 2012
3:04 pm

Ray’s is a perfect example of why restaurants don’t last. Food, service and management is subpar. Diner BEWARE!

carla roqs

July 26th, 2012
3:21 pm

but…it has lasted, right?

Cobbian

July 26th, 2012
3:32 pm

Yes it has lasted…but in my opinion if it didn’t have that fabulous location it would have closed long ago.

Just sail your dingy a little farther down the river to Canoe…you’ll be much happier.

Piscean

July 26th, 2012
3:47 pm

I won’t return to Ray’s on the River. The last time I ate there, I was served 3 scallops that tasted strongly of tripolyphosphate. For $16, at least provide a fresh dry scallop. When I later sent a note via their website commenting on my experience, I received no response whatsoever. I’ll never go back.

Wino

July 26th, 2012
4:27 pm

Rays dad founded Shoneys. Ray liked their food.

rebelliousrose

July 26th, 2012
4:28 pm

Completely unimpressed with Ray’s. I’d rather go up the street to Heirloom Market BBQ, spend less, eat more, and be completely satisfied with the experience. Also, 30$ for a bottle of White Zin? Are they on crack?

Baltisraul

July 27th, 2012
9:24 am

Only have been once. Never thought about going back. Don’t know why, other than I was not impressed. It just did not make any impression on me at all. Lot of places like that. It must have been ‘c’ for average. I just can’t remember the place, except for the name.

Scorpio

July 27th, 2012
9:28 am

My husband and I ate there about 8 years ago and haven’t been back. The food was ok, but the service was terrible. Waiter was condescending, rude and snobbish. Ruined the meal. Not worth the drive for us.

Jadzia

July 27th, 2012
10:38 am

Holy cow, that renovation was done in 2007? I went there for Mother’s Day 2010 and thought it had the decor from circa 1976. The deco is reminiscent of the restaurants in Ft. Lauderdale during its swinging hey days in the ’70s. Lots of dark, shiny surfaces, and .. the carpet! Carpeting has no place in a fine restaurant in the South. I tried not to look at it.

We also weren’t impressed with the hygiene. We attributed it to an outdated decor that was an indicator they didn’t care about how things looked. Yet they had just renovated only 3 yrs before!

There is a lack of expense account restaurants in that area, this is a big deal when you consider the big Wildwood business complex around the corner: GE, IBM, Coca Cola, etc.. Other options there is a Houston’s on Power’s Ferry & Windy Hill, or you have to go to Vinings, or hit the big box ones at Cumberland Mall, or go to Ruth Chris on Roswell Road in Sandy Springs.

I’m guessing that scarcity/convenience/expense accounts is what keeps this place busy.

PapaDoc

July 27th, 2012
10:52 am

I love the pastoral view of the Hooch at an approaching sunset. I have had excellent meals and lackluster meals at Ray’s. Service has been terrible at times but at wife’s birthday dinner, it was superb. I used to enjoy the oyster bar with a wide variety of offerings. No longer there. We go there every so often and have mixed reviews. Anyone remember when Elgin Wells provided music in the lounge. Good memories of his talent.

Marc

July 27th, 2012
2:22 pm

Kitty do your homework!!! Unless you’re a complete and total neat freak your kitchen would get much more than a 70%.

Veggie

July 27th, 2012
3:04 pm

@Jack Trent, the caption beneath Jenny’s picture reads review by Jenny Turknett. John is the chieftain of Food and More, he is introducing the article that follows.

Jenny Turknett

July 27th, 2012
6:23 pm

Kitty– Ray’s on the River scored a 59 on their May 4 inspection but earned a 91 on a subsequent inspection.
Veggie, Jon Watson’s Classics visits are not rated, but my revisits are.
Mark, we went to prom dinner at Ray’s on the River once or twice, as well!

Jerry B.

July 27th, 2012
9:20 pm

The view is nice, but how can you enjoy it with awful food & service. Total waste of time & money! I won’t be back.

Dave Bakitas

July 27th, 2012
9:21 pm

Wow so many Ray Haters on here. I’ve been there a number of times and its a great restaurant with a really talented and up in coming chef! Chef Josh does a great job and has the resume to back it up. Fresh seafood daily with culinary work put into it! Great steaks from Buckhead Beef and the atmosphere is great!! I’ll be back..

Reading comprehension is dead

July 28th, 2012
5:14 pm

@Jack Trent: You make the same uninformed complaint over and over again, when the author is clearly identified. What exactly is your real problem?

Micah Greene

July 28th, 2012
6:33 pm

Agree with Reading is dead. Kessler clearly introduces the author and you would have to be pretty dim not to understand he wasn’t reviewing, but she was. Wake up Jack Trent!

Mar -Atl Foodie

July 30th, 2012
9:55 am

I just had a birthday dinner there and it was good. A lot of their food offerings are on the salty side, and for years I have mentioned it, but nothing ever gets changed, so we avoid the brunch, Mothers’ day and Thanksgiving.

atlnative

July 30th, 2012
11:06 am

Ray’s On The River was once a great dining experience,but now is a upscale Golden Corral.The kids are not supervised,eating and picking over food choices,and placing back on the food trays.WTF!

alphadog

July 30th, 2012
1:27 pm

Over 25 year I’ve had a lot of great memories at Ray’s. Meeting future in-laws, daughter’s pre-prom dinner, cocktails with 2nd wife, Friday night caps, jamming with Elgin Wells! Food quality has ebbed and flowed with the chef but Rays is an institution in North Atlanta!

GaPeachy

July 30th, 2012
3:19 pm

WOW, u guys are freakin me out! I am having my wedding here in October. Haven’t had my tasting yet but the times I had eaten there before my food was pretty good. They have a dessert that is to kill for (Praline basket with bourbon ice cream and fresh fruit).

albert

July 30th, 2012
4:27 pm

Their food and service may or may not be good, but I won’t go there after their ridiculous wine stunt years ago.

kitty

July 30th, 2012
5:45 pm

GaPeachy-break your contract! Too many other choices for the money you will spend on their horrible tent outside, mediocre food and snooty service.

kitty

July 30th, 2012
5:47 pm

Jenny-a 59 on a health rating is totally unacceptable, ever. I would encourage waiting till they string several months of ratings of 90 or higher before I return. Food poisoning is never fun.

Marcy

July 30th, 2012
5:57 pm

I was there back in October of 2011 and got so violently ill that i ended up spending the night and all of the next day in the hospital. I just put it down to a bad scallop that was probably out of their control, but after hearing about the score of 59, it makes me wonder if it was their fault . . . .

bradcater

August 1st, 2012
11:32 am

Anyone that says a SALMOn dish is good, should stay with chains. SALMON is the most over used/used wrong fish out there. I bet the same person thinks Tilapia is good.

yummy

August 1st, 2012
4:10 pm

Went there for the first time a few weeks ago. Ambience was nice. Our server, Kevin, was fantastic! Started with the field green salad which, while tasty and plentiful, was overdressed. Next I had the garlic mashed potatoes and hanger steak with some sort goat cheese sauce and it was ok, although I kind of wished it had been served with a chimichurri. Finally for dessert I had the key lime pie with mango and raspberry coulis…unfortunately no fireworks there either. I would be willing to go back and give it a second try, but next time I’ll try the seafood! Here’s to second chances!