This last week, a series of cocktail and food tastings was done at the Blind Pig in Rancho Santa Margarita. Friday, August 16, for an Examiner exclusive, private interviews with four of the key people were also done. The tastings purpose of the tasting was three-fold; to allow some Orange County foodies, bloggers and writers to taste and see what the Blind Pig was going to offer, to allow the staff to gain some practice working together and to allow an opportunity to meet the owners, chef and bartender and “talk food”. All in all, it was a resounding success. With their opening coming up on August 21, the Blind Pig promises to provide an upscale yet comfortable place to enjoy unique renditions of both familiar and unfamiliar foods, along with craft cocktails and other beverages. Beautiful dark woods inside, an outdoor patio and inviting bar all combine to present an appealing atmosphere.
The tasting started with cocktails created and mixed by Gabrielle Dion, the head bartender. One of the first drinks was the RSM Sour. It consisted of Fighting Cock Bourbon, lemon, Coochi Vermouth de Tornino and topped with meringue. This drink was a perfect example of Gabrielle’s deep knowledge of different ingredients and their tastes and how to combine them. Most bourbon fans would look at it and mistake it for a “fro-fru”, drink. To a true bourbon fan who is willing to give it a try, the balance is amazing. The flavor of the bourbon stands out, smooth and yet assertive, with just a touch of the vermouth increasing the complexity of the flavor. The meringue, which in other hands might turn the drink too sweet, has just the right balance to add an elusive taste to complement to bourbon. This is a drink which a bourbon aficionado could really enjoy.
Another example of Gabrielle's artistry is a drink called 50 Shades of Orange. Here again, Gabrielle has found a combination that works exceedingly well. Ford's Gin, Aperol, Breckenridge Bitters, honey and lemon oil are blended to make a drink that has a flavor all it's own. The Aperol, a cousin to Campari, with the same herbaceous type of flavor and aroma, brings familiar and unfamiliar tastes together. The touch of honey and lemon oils play off of each other to make a very easy drink to enjoy. Other popular creations were the Mexican Firing Squad, the Brandy Crusta and the appropriately named A Good Thyme,with Gates of London Gin, Blackberry Thyme Shrub, lime and crushed ice.
Although in some circles Gabby would be called a mixologist, she is partial to “bartender”. As she put it, “Bartender implies you are friendly, mixologist sounds like you are pretentious”. She continued, “All drinks can be simple and still great. Looking back into they way classic cocktails were, I utilize new ingredients and new spirits but stay true to the classics.” She added, I carry high proof spirits for the mixed drinks. The lower proof spirits, whether they are bourbon, vodka or gin, tend to get lost in a mixed drink. With high proof spirits, the drink tends to showcase the quality and taste of the spirit.”
Joshua Han is the Blind Pig's Executive Chef. Joshua came to the Blind Pig from the prestigious Broadway in Laguna Beach, where he was the sous chef. Very passionate about his foods, Joshua said. “I'm not trying to be something completely different, or out of the box. Instead, I'm interested in introducing people to new ingredients, the share similar flavor notes as foods they are used to”. A perfect example of that was the Beet Salad. Instead of the usual red beets, he used fresh gold beets, pistachio granola, sharp cheddar shavings, hibiscus compressed Maui onion and watercress, all topped with a house-made cumin guava vinaigrette. The flavors were familiar but the combination decidedly unique. This was a real crowd-pleaser among the attendees. .
Other items also got raves too. Before each course, Joshua explained his ingredients and the concept behind the dish. The appetizer, a bowl of cherries, sounded mundane, until he explained that the cherries were dipped in bacon fat, coated with bacon dust and served with brie-yogurt. Those went exceedingly fast. A mushroom ceviche, certainly an unusual sounding dish, utilized fresh exotic mushroom cubes, charred scallions, sour grapes, chili guero and came with taro chips on the side. It was another dish that sounded strange, but had everyone clamoring for more. The blend of flavors, with the mushroom adding a delicious flavor and texture, was a big hit. Another hit was the bone marrow, a dish that is hard to find. Joshua's rendition included a smoked shallot marmalade, pickled figs, Maytag blue cheese and baguette toast. Using small spoons, everyone was digging out every bit of rich goodness from the bones that were sliced in half. The marmalade and figs gave a nice counterpoint, cutting the richness of the marrow and creating a symphony in your mouth. Spotted prawns with quinoa were also served, with green olives, peanuts, braised fennel manchego cheese and a bouillabaisse vinaigrette.
Jarryd Graff and Tony Monaco are the owners of the blind Pig. Having both grown up together in Rancho Santa Margarita, they knew the area well. Jarryd said, “We originally were thinking of a coastal location for the Blind Pig, but when we found that the location we have was available we jumped on it immediately. We knew that the restaurant, located right on the shore of Rancho Santa Margarita Lake, was the ideal spot for our concept. It will be a fun place for people to hang out and provide a great place for the locals as well as visitors from out of the area.” One of the interesting features is the inclusion of several communal tables along with the regular table seating for couples and and small groups of friends. With the communal tables, people can sit down, enjoy conversations with people they might not know and in general create an atmosphere of casual friendliness that makes for a fun time. With the unpretentious atmosphere, this is also an ideal way for someone to look across the table, ask what the person is eating and start a conversation about the food.
Tony said it best when he spoke about the ideas for creating a place that everyone could feel great about coming to. “Overall, the goal is to bring the experience of dining to Rancho Santa Margarita. Flavors and items that people have never tasted before”. According to Tony, “Our goal is to enhance the guest's palates by improving the experience of dining.” Part of the concept, he said, is “creating many small plates of food. This encourages everyone to share and try many different dishes. Having the chance to try something new that they've never had before is a prime part of the experience.”
A tentative menu was also passed out. For lunch, sandwiches range from a grilled cheese on brioche with cheddar, and a PBLTT with smoked pork belly, lettuce, tomato and smoked shallot marmalade. Salads and other items include tuna tartare, chicken salad and a smoked tomato bisque. For dinner, items besides the ones at the tasting will include pan roasted chicken, coriander seared ahi, chorizo ravioli and a petite NY steak with Mexican corn and a puree ofblack beans.
The Blind Pig will be opening for business on Wednesday, August 21. With the attitude of all involved, it looks to be a place where many will become regulars. Plus, with the communal tables, it may just be a great place to meet a new friend, talk about food and drink with a foodie or just go to relax, enjoy the outdoor patio and have a relaxing experience watching the lake.
The Blind Pig
31431 Santa Margarita Parkway
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA