It was late December of 2013. We decided everyone just had to be there. So we gathered our girlfriends for “one last hurrah” at The Ritz in Fashion Island. We scored a huge round table adjacent to the bar. The staff was incredibly friendly and attentive. Providing great service was always a cornerstone at The Ritz. We smiled broadly and tipped well. But there was a deep sadness amidst the frivolity. We were really there for a fond farewell, and we all knew it.
Memories of the past began to flash before me, as I scanned this landscape of dining lore. There was a friend’s 60th surprise birthday party in the Wine Room (one of my most treasured rooms). There was the memorial on the Garden Terrace for beloved Link Mathewson. The Dining Room was elegant, where dinner was an “all evening” affair with tuxedo-clad waiters. And then there was the Bar. A place the community called home. The sound of a martini shaker in motion would welcome me in, and our late night sing-alongs with Jim Roberts at piano make me laugh. There was always someone I would know. Up and down, just wonderful memories played before me.
This was the place for city coronations, society parties and numerous influential charity events. The Women of Chapman’s “Christmas at The Ritz” was one of the many premier events. In fact, they held their event there every year since 1986 until its closing. They set the bar very high and really kicked off the philanthropic holiday season in Newport Beach, raising impressive coin for Chapman.
No reminiscing of this iconic establishment would be complete without a tip of the hat to the incredible hospitality and stewardship of the honorable Hans Prager. Hans earned his chef stripes at Scandia, the posh Waldorf-Astoria, and many other stellar restaurants. His hospitality and laser focus on service was legendary. He understood a chef’s world and front of the house too. He handled it all with panache. He also gave back, and his Ritz Brothers club raised huge donations for Hoag Hospital and children’s causes. He was chef/partner in the 1977 opening of The Ritz Restaurant, which was originally located in the historic McFadden Building (now 21 Oceanfront), and, in 1982, it relocated to Fashion Island.
Fast forward to fall of 2015 and the unveiling of its new home on the harbor. Meet Ritz Prime Seafood. The restaurant honors Prager with a plaque at the entry. New owners, Grill Concepts, assure guests that “exceptional service” will continue, and Kenyon Paar, the GM, (previously with Fleming’s) is there to assure just that. CEO Bob Spivak and Corporate Executive Chef Phil Kastel developed the menu alongside Michael Steward, who is the Executive Chef at The Ritz. There is a raw bar with seafood flown in daily, dry aged Prime steaks and a creative menu with lots to try. Some standouts worth trying include tuna sashimi, lobster bisque and a whole roasted branzino, just to name a few. And yes, the famous Ritz Egg is showcased! The restaurant is modern with porcelain tiles, mesquite woods, etched glass and floor-to-ceiling windows offering commanding views of the Newport Harbor. The restaurant, which also features an outdoor patio, is open for dinner nightly and for brunch on the weekends. What’s old is new again, and I wish them much success here on the Newport Harbor. The legacy continues.