Naples restaurants: At The Ritz-Carlton's Ria, drama, empanadas and a love story — JLB review

The new Ria restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples offers an upscale take on Latin cuisine, served with classically Ritzy flair.

Annabelle Tometich
Naples Daily News

This is a love story. Dedicated to empanadas. 

It started as some love stories do, with a friendly nod and a passing glance. Of the trio of plates spread before me during a recent meal at Ria, the new restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, the empanadas de choclo made the quietest first impression. The pockets of crimped dough looked like any of the dozens of other empanadas I've devoured in my life. 

Patiently they sat, off to one side, as I sipped a cocktail infused with aloe-vera juice and Barsol Pisco, a wedge of fresh aloe perched on its rim next to a sprig of fuchsia flowers. Patiently they stayed as I dug into a skillet of provoleta that beckoned far more loudly, its bubbling cheese strewn with confit garlic and fire-roasted tomatoes, each bite rich and gooey in that blissful, eyes-rolled-back-in-your-head sort of way. 

Ria opened Dec. 21, 2020 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples. The open-air, poolside restaurant offers a casual, Latin-inspired menu served with a Ritz-Carlton flair.

Even the simple choripan found me sooner; mini-sandwiches packed with snappy chorizo sausages and finished with herb-laden chimichurri. 

Then, finally, I turned to the empanadas. 

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My knife crunched through the buttery dough, revealing a pale yellow filling of sweet corn and mozzarella. Wisps of steam mingled with the cool evening air. I took a bite. It tasted like comfort and magic, like the world's savoriest, most soothing corn pudding loaded into a flaky-crisp pastry shell. 

I fell in love. With this empanada, with Ria and with Chef Aldo Novoa Rodriguez, the man who made this Latin-infused gem a Ritzy reality in December.

These empanadas de choclo ($14) from Ria look simple, but they are magical: fluffy pastry dough stuffed with sweet yellow corn and mozzarella that melt in the mouth like velvety corn pudding.

That's dramatic. I know. But drama is The Ritz-Carlton's middle name. At this Ritz-Carlton, one of two in Naples, the drama starts with the fountains and twinkling palm trees lining the entry road. It continues with the soaring pavilion that shades the resort's front doors, with the masked, gloved and crisply uniformed staff who see you without seeing you, who surreptitiously position themselves to open your doors, graciously bowing their heads as you pass. 

That this majesty could lead to tacos and empanadas feels — odd. We're accustomed to such elegance with French cuisine or American-fusion fare, but why not elevate the dishes of Mexico and South America? And who better to do so than Chef Rodriguez, a native of Mexico with culinary talent to spare?

This isn't to say Ria is fancy. Technically, it's The Ritz-Carlton's pool lounge, an open-air spot overlooking one of the Tiburon golf courses and the resort's soon-to-be completed water park. Ria's customers, most of whom are hotel guests, may show up in cashmere wraps or board shorts. The couple next to me at the bar had matching Ralph Lauren sweaters draped over their shoulders. A few tables over, a man wore basketball shorts and a T-shirt. 

It's an interesting blend, as is Ria's menu. 

Said menu is 18 dishes long, including desserts. I tasted roughly a third of those dishes on my visit, and every bite delighted. Chef Rodriguez has a way with flavors, layering classical European techniques (as with the pastry shells of those lovely empanadas) with the traditional spices and herbs of Peru, Argentina and his home country of Mexico. 

He fills tacos with Baja-style shrimp, chili-rubbed skirt steak, or beautiful, slow braised cochinita pibil; shreds of juicy pork bright with achiote. He showcases sunny huancaina sauce over ribbons of fettuccine with charred broccoli and hazelnuts, and in Peruvian-style papas a la huancaina, which gets a Ritzy twist with marble potatoes and black-olive dust. 

Were I not already so deeply in love, Chef Rodriguez's alfajores would have sealed the deal: gooey dulce de leche sandwiched between buttery shortbread cookies and served with house-made horchata ice cream — because Ritz-Carlton

And, because Ritz-Carlton, the casual Ria isn't cheap. Fourteen dollars for two empanadas (though hearty ones) feels steep, no matter their magic. Then you look around, at the gracious staff who've taken such fine care of you, at the setting sun casting a pink glow across the golf course and its trees.

This, too, is what you're paying for; the elegance and drama that's synonymous with The Ritz, and that's designed to make you fall in love. 

Jean Le Boeuf is the brand under which our restaurant critics have written for more than 40 years. This article came from staff writer Annabelle Tometich. Follow our critics at facebook.com/jeanleboeufswfl or @JeanLeBoeuf on Twitter and Instagram; email jleboeuf@news-press.com. Connect with this reporter: atometich@news-press.com; @abellewrites (Instagram)

A bubbling skillet of provoleta ($16) from Ria. The menu bills this dish as "grilled cheese," but it is so much more. Confit garlic and tomato add brightness and depth to the cheese, which is as rich and wonderfully gooey as it looks.

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Ria

The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort; 2600 Tiburon Drive, Naples

Price: $$$-$$$$

Webritzcarlton.com

Reservationsopentable.com

Hours: 5:30-9 p.m. daily

Etc.: Full bar, seating is exclusively outdoors and open-air, staff wear masks and gloves

Sample menu

Shareable plates

Papas a la huancaina, $12

Empanadas de choclo, $14

Ceviche de pescado, $18

Mains

Tacos de cochinita pibil, $18

Tacos de camarones, $22

Tallarin huancaina, $22

What the symbols mean

$ - Average entree is under $10

$$ - $10-$15

$$$ - $15-$20

$$$$ - $20-$25

$$$$$ - $25 and up

For dessert, Ria offers churros, flan de cajeta and these luscious alfajores, buttery and crumbly shortbread cookies filled with dulce de leche and served with ice cream.