I know what you’re thinking – The Blind Pig is an odd name for a restaurant, right? But remember it, because that little blind piggy is making a big splash in Rancho Santa Margarita. Co-owners, Tony Monaco and Jarryd Graaff, homeboys turned entrepreneuers from Coto de Caza, see The Blind Pig as a “throwback to speakeasy days” offering up gastropub cuisine with an inventive twist. Going all in on their first restaurant endeavor, Monaco and Graaff redesigned the former Wings spot on Lake Rancho Santa Margarita and stacked the deck with an A-team in the bar and the kitchen.
Joshua Han, previously the sous chef at Broadway by Amar Santana is making his mark with inventive, well executed and perfectly balanced dishes judging from what was presented at a media tasting the week before their opening on August 21st. Han has free rein in the kitchen and is creating exciting food that exhibited a pronounced effort at combining all the taste sensations: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. I was particularly impressed with the hint of acid in each dish as this is the component that many otherwise fine dishes seem to lack. Especially with the current trend of pork belly, bacon, and marrow, that tiny flourish of acid is what can make the difference between a belly buster and a savory delicacy.
Chef Josh Han and Co-owners Jarryd Graaff and Tony Monaco of The Blind Pig
Reigning Orange County cocktail maven Gabrielle Dion, also at Broadway, created the drink menu of classic cocktails that harken back to an era of glamour and sophistication with herbal infusions, bitters and savory spirits like Orgeat and Aperol making a bold statement in the meticulously made concoctions.
The array of drinks we sampled were visually arresting and heaven on the palate – whether your preference runs to tequila, rum, gin, bourbon on liqueurs – there is a bracing cocktail that awaits you and, if you prefer craft beer, The Blind Pig boasts an excellent selection. Having just opened, they are fine-tuning their menus and currently are open only for dinner except on Sunday when they offer $5.00 beers and a special chalkboard menu from 10:00 a.m. to midnight for Sunday Funday advocates and football fans.
Here’s a peek at the cocktails we happily sipped during the tasting. As a group we did a good job of spreading the love among the featured cocktails so we could try them all. I found the two gin cocktails to be particularly enticing and complex – ”A Good Thyme” is refreshing with the sweet and sour punch that is characteristic of a “shrub” which is made with fruit liqueur/drinking vinegar, topped with a refreshing heap of crushed ice- a grown-up version of shaved ice. The “50 Shades of Orange” is a spirit-forward (read: assertive, strong) bitter/sweet combination of gin, aperol and bitters with honey and lemon oils. The bourbon based RSM Sour - smooth, yet assertive, with a touch of vermouth and a little sweetness from a crown of meringue – was popular at the table as was the lip tingling tequila based “Mexican Firing Squad“. The “Brandy Crusta” served in a sugared glass, the signature of the crusta cocktail, is a gorgeous homage to this classic drink invented in antebellum New Orleans and almost too beautiful to drink.
A Good Thyme| gin, blackberry thyme shrub, lime, crushed ice.
Brandy Crusta | Maison Rouge VSOP, Maraschino Liqueur, Curacao, Lemon
As for the food, Josh Han works his magic by creating fresh, seasonal dishes that equaled the cocktails in quality, taste, and presentation. The first course called “bowl cherries” foreshadowed his flair for the artistic and a talent for unusual flavor combinations. The bacon fat dipped cherries dusted with bacon and accented with brie-yogurt was a symphony of salty and sweet enveloped in the creamy tartness of the brie-yogurt.
Bowl Cherries | bacon fat dipped cherries, bacon dust, brie-yogurt
Next up was a mushroom “ceviche” which again,was a sublime combination that hits all the right notes: sour grapes, smoky charred scallions, spicy chile guero and earthy mushrooms with a crispy taro chip.
The second course was a beet salad. I thought I was bored with beet salads until this one – an unexpected version that was my favorite of the four dishes we tasted. Not your typical beet salad pairing of red beets and blue cheese, Han surprises us with golden beets which have a tinge of bitterness vs. the earthiness of red beets. Perfectly balanced with the rich, pungent sharp cheddar, crunchy granola with pistachios, sweet hibiscus compressed maui onion and cumin-guava vinaigrette, I could make a meal of this alone. Granola even! I want it now even more.
Next up, Fried Spot Prawns with sweet pepper quinoa, green olives, peanut, braised fennel, manchego, and bouillabaisse vinaigrette. The prawns are flash fried in a delicate tempura-like batter and the vinaigrette complemented them nicely. For me, this dish was a little too busy and the saltiness of the olives were a bit overpowering.
Ooohs and aaahs were heard around the table as the ever popular bone marrow made a stunning appearance. I’ve probably tasted more pork belly and bone marrow renditions than your average person and this leaves me a tad blasé about this trend – but this one was special for the pickled figs and smoked shallot marmalade and the melt-in-your-mouth superior quality of the marrow itself. The sweet/sour combination cuts the richness of the marrow and Maytag bleu cheese gives a piquant punch. Moans of sheer joy came from several marrow-loving guests who made no bones about finishing off what others left behind.
Bone marrow | pickled figs, smoked shallot marmalade, maytag bleu cheese, toast
At the time of the tasting, the menu was still being refined. The line up includes classic favorites with a sophisticated, modern twist. With a prime spot overlooking Lake Rancho Santa Margarita (adjacent to Carmelita’s) and a large, comfortable patio to take in the view as well as an upscale yet unpretentious dining area with private and communal tables, The Blind Pig has a captive audience in the under-served Rancho Santa Margarita area and everything it takes to achieve their hopes of being a place where people come to spend the evening, not just grab a meal and go – what a gastropub is meant to be.
31431 Santa Margarita Parkway
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688