Review of The Blind Pig
Will this Chef Centric restaurant start a new trend in South Orange County?
There is a running joke amongst foodies living in South Orange County, “I may have to move in order to have easy access to good restaurants.” Sure there are some gems and small islands of progressive restaurants in South County, but South OC is known for chain restaurants and safe menus. To all the aspiring restaurateurs, South Orange County has a market gap for progressive Chef Centric restaurants. The best evidence of this pent up demand is the recent opening of The Bling Pig in Rancho Santa Margarita, the heart of South Orange County’s Bedroom community.
The Blind Pig is just one of two restaurants located on Rancho Santa Margarita Lake, one of the better captive audience restaurant locations in Orange County. Although their dining room is fairly small, they do boost a nice patio overlooking the lake. This area is also home to “The Real Housewives of Orange County” , so don’t be surprised if you see a couple of them coming for cocktails.
For a restaurant attempting to stand out, an experienced and creative Chef is a must. Unleashing such a Chef is the X factor that can make a restaurant like The Blind Pig great. The owners of the Blind Pig were serious about being a progressive restaurant by hiring Chef Joshua Han. He is the former Sous Chef at one of my favorite restaurants, Broadway by Amar Santana in Laguna Beach. At Broadway, he was known for thinking outside the box and helping to evolve their cuisine. He is known for experimentalism, while keeping balance. After tasting his dishes, I knew they gave him free reign.
Cuisine and Menu Format
The Blind Pig’s format is upscale Gastropub, with equal emphasis on craft food and cocktails. The menu features spiced up standards like steak and ahi; although, they also feature foodie favorites like bone marrow and pork belly. Their portions are larger than tapas, but smaller than a typical chain restaurant. Between my wife and I, we ordered three dishes to share at a cost of $45, average cost per person of $22.50. This is about the same price I pay for a full belly at any nice gastropub in Orange County.
I purposely ordered some standard looking items off the menu to simulate the experience of a timid customer.
Coriander Seared Ahi
This was a very good interpretation of seared ahi, and a departure from the overplayed Asian fusion version making its way through the restaurant circuit. The ahi is dusted with ground coriander and then seared. This seasoning gives the ahi a subtle aromatic nose. It was also served with charred baby radish and an interesting pink peppercorn butter sauce. This pink peppercorn butter gave the ahi a creamier, rich flavor. It was accompanied with “honey compressed jicama”, which provided a clean crisp flavor and cleared the palate. My only complaint about this dish is that it was a tad over salted, perhaps 10-20% more than needed. On the other of the table, my wife said the salt level was perfect, then again her salt receptors are a little less sensitive than mine. $16
Pan Roasted Chicken
Chicken is normally the white cotton panties of restaurant dishes, great for a workday dinner at home, but boring on the weekend. I ordered this dish because our other choices were already sold out for the night. The chicken breast, which looked like it was at least 8 ounces, a good size. It was very tender and juicy as if it was sous vided prior to being seared in a buttery pan. The flavoring was simple, letting the flavor of buttery chicken stand out. When I tasted the dish, I was surprised how juicy and flavorful it tasted, it was like discovering naughty knickers under a modest dress. The chicken breast was served atop a kale salad tossed with basil, dried cherries, croutons, grapefruit, burnt garlic vinaigrette. Even if you don’t like kale, this salad is impressive. Again this dish was just slightly over salted, if you look carefully at the picture you can see a sprinkle of kosher salt over the food. $12
New York Steak
This was my favorite item that I tried that night. Chef Han nailed the cooking of the steak to a medium-rare+. Underneath the steak was a very aromatic and subtly spicy pistachio romesco sauce. It tasted like a little red chili was added to the sauce, accentuating the natural beef flavor, without the heat. The steak was accompanied by roasted potatoes. They had the right balance of tenderness and resistance; they tasted really good with the romesco sauce. In the center of the dish was a slow cooked soft boiled egg, with velvety soft whites and slowly oozing yoke.
Items that I will order on my next visit
- Bone Marrow – bone marrow, smoked shallot marmalade, pickled figs, maytag blue cheese, toast.
- Pork Belly French Toast
- “Orange Chicken” made with dehydrated tomatoes.
Focus on Craft Cocktails
Cocktails and craft beer are perhaps what will ensure The Blind Pig’s success. Craft cocktail specialist Gabrielle Dion, also spent time at Broadway restaurant, and brings her immense talents to The Blind Pig. All cocktails run at $11. Their complex flavors and use of premium liquors will please the snobbiest of cocktail aficionados. We ordered the RSM Sour, Patio Sipper, Brandy Crusta and the A Good Thyme.
Our favorite drink was the RSM sour made with Fighting Cock Bourbon, lemon, Cocchi Vermouth de Tornino, meringue. This cocktail was a very balanced with sour and cream flavors. It was capped with egg white meringue and sprinkled with fall spices. Even non-bourbon drinkers will like this cocktail. My second favorite was the Brandy Crusta, a semisweet cocktail made with Maison Rouge VSOP, Marashino Liqueur, Curacao and lemon. It was served in sugar crusted glass and went down a little too easily. This drink could have just as easily been called the Panty Dropper.
I observed several minor issues, common with new restaurants. For example, the night we visited many of the items on the menu were out, some of the dishes were slightly over-salted, and the Manager/Owner never came out to engage with customers. On the positive side, the restaurant has a very welcoming environment and I literally felt like I was sitting in someone’s backyard enjoying cocktail.
My Final Thoughts
I left The Blind Pig with positive impressions that this restaurant could help start a trend. I have no confusion that they will be facing an uphill battle after the “new restaurant buzz” wears off. The key to success for these first time restaurant owners to follow their passions and stay engaged with their customers. They have a great Chef and Bartender with many years of restaurant experience; trust their advice and instincts, as they have helped other businesses thrive.