It's a given that most restaurants will suffer some sort of grand opening jitters, but the string of frustrating experiences around our first trip to The Blind Pig in Rancho Santa Margarita ensures we'll wait a while before we head back for more.
Pros: The restaurant is the first of it's kind in deep South County. Ladera's Infusion was too stuffy; nothing other than Sol del Sur in San Juan Capistrano comes close to the variety of eclectic plates on the menu. The closest thing would be The Playground, where I could see some of these dishes easily interchanged. Cons: The website had no menu. The listed phone number went straight to a Sprint voicemail. And the 30-minute wait turned into an hour wait after the group in front of us was told tables would take longer because friends of the chef came in and wanted a table first.
So we looked over the menu while we waited. And then we read it some more, dreaming of the bounty it might hold:
Prices aren't on the menu you'll see at the front desk, but the one at the table laid it all out. Dishes are small plates that run $7-$23. Cocktails, crafted by Gabrielle Dion are $11. We say you can't go wrong with the Moscow Mule, which was refreshing to sip on while watching the sun set over "Lake" Rancho Santa Margarita.
We were seated but due to a personal time constraint we had to order fast. Truth be told, we nearly had both feet out the door right before our table was called. We had to omit the pork belly from our order because the waitress said it could take too long, which is too bad because the dish, garnished with watermelon radish, looked vibrant and delectable.
Another must-order according to Dave who dined there during a preview last week is the celery "mac 'n' cheese" with pickled celery and aged balsamic. We'll save both for next time, but here's what we had on opening night:
The "bowl cherries" featured bacon-fat coated cherries dusted in crumbled bacon, sitting in a pool of brie-yogurt. The dish might have worked but the cherries were tart instead of sweet, layering tart fruit on tart yogurt, leaving the mouth with a bitter pucker after each bite. Because there was no sweetness, the salty bacon had nothing to accentuate. No flavor fireworks; just duds.
We also ordered the fries, which--with furikake, sesame oil, shishito puree and kewpie mayo for dipping--were more Japanese than any frite we've seen in these parts. The toasty, salty seasonings were on point, but the potato spears themselves were too soft and soggy.
We didn't eat all of them.
Chorizo ravioli was the highlight of the meal. The portion is small--if you're sharing between two people, expect about six bites per person--but the flavors were mostly there, if not a little less announced due to under-salting. The cilantro-mint pesto and fried chickpeas were reminiscent of Indian cuisine, but the spiced chorizo and salty slivers of manchego brought home the Spanish influence. This was the dish that proved there are more promising finds on the menu, ensuring we'll return at least once. ... But not before they have a working phone, so we can make a reservation.
Bonus review: We were still hungry on the way home so we stopped for a slice at the new Flippin' Pizza in Mission Viejo. It's the first OC outpost of a chain with locations in San Diego, Virginia and Maryland. They specialize in 18" New York-style pizza, slizes and calzones.
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I can't judge the merits of this slice against the ones in New York since I've never been, but the cheesy pizza was floppy and foldable, while maintaining a crisp crunch until the last bite. A solid consolation prize for such an uneven night out.