Photos courtesy The Blind Pig Kitchen + Bar

 

Situated in the suburban Orange County community of Rancho Santa Margarita, The Blind Pig Kitchen + Bar might appear to have an unremarkable location in the Mercado Del Lago shopping mall. That is, until you arrive and discover the charming and serene view of the manmade lake, Lago Santa Margarita, which is highly visible from the restaurant’s expansive patio. But if you choose to sit inside, the atmosphere is both cozy and fun, with an old time theme evident via red brick walls, hardwood floor, hanging Edison lights, 1930s era black and white photos and the restaurant’s name: during Prohibition “blind pig” was at times a common code name for a speakeasy.

The Blind Pig is described as a craft bar meshed with a true-to-form fresh prep kitchen using quality ingredients that have never been frozen. Under the direction of 27-year-old Executive Chef Karl Pfleider, this young chef is gifted with quite a bit of talent and clearly has a bright future. Chef was born and raised in Orange County and learned his trade on the job and as he says, “was informally trained in French cuisine by mentors who were formally trained.” He gives a nod to Aron Habiger and Linh Nguyen as his first mentors, whom he worked with at The Crosby (now closed) in Downtown Santa Ana, and also Ryan Adams and Josh Han, with whom he worked alongside at Three Seventy Common in Laguna. Han brought him on as Sous Chef when The Blind Pig opened in 2013; after Han left a year later, Chef Pfleider was promoted to Executive Chef.

Chef Pfleider grew up in a mixed food culture—Mexican and Pilipino—and describes his cooking as “what I know” with “Asian flavors with Latin and French influences as Asian spices meet French culinary technique” and emphasizes that “textures are really important to balance everything out.” Case in point is the Mushroom Saltado, a beautiful dish with a mélange of colors and flavors, a Peruvian stir fry composed of a medley of four different wild mushrooms mixed with puffed rice, pickled mustard seeds, poached egg and chili oil; and Pan Seared Ling Cod (a mild white fish) served with sunburst squash, cucumber peanut sauce, chili threads and finely cut peanuts and haricot vert to add crunch to the texture. The menu selection is kept to just under 20 choices, allowing Chef to execute dishes perfectly. 

The Blind Pig’s eclectic menu changes with the seasons, but a mainstay is one of its most popular dishes, the Wild Boar Meatballs—with Japanese curry, baby arugula and a roux flavored with chicken stock and apple—so good I will return time and again just to relive the incredible flavors. While most of the dishes are non-traditional creative renditions with uncommon ingredients, the Pappardelle is a traditional bolognaise with parmigiana reggiano that Chef describes as “an honest bowl of pasta.” For dessert, a must-have is the Budino with crushed walnut, chocolate, espresso and fresh whipped cream flavored with fernut liqueur. 

Chef Karl Pfleider & General Manager Ryan Autry

The beer, wine, cocktail and spirits list is curated by General Manager Ryan Autry (yes, he is related to the famous singing cowboy screen actor), who grew up in nearby Mission Viejo and has worked in the restaurant industry since he was 15, and has been managing The Blind Pig for the past 2.5 years. Ryan describes himself as a serious student of the craft who is passionate about and loves what he does. Shortly after taking his managerial position he was given the green light to expand the whiskey selection and has procured a list of big, bold unsung heroes and specialty, rare small batch choices, at approachable prices. The impressive list now brings in customers who come explicitly for the spirits; the bar is filling a niche as there are no other whiskey bars within 25 miles. 

Craft cocktails are all made in-house with seasonal, fresh ingredients, like the @autrygram’s Sloppy Special with cachaça, cognac, tawny port, orange curacao, pineapple, lime, grenadine and angostura. For the beer list Ryan carries mostly OC brewery beers and the selection is fluid, meaning as soon as one keg blows a new beer is put on. Also in the mix are wine dinners and cocktail dinners with beer dinners a possibility in the future. 

Nearly every night enticements are offered to bring you in the door, with daily (except for Monday when the restaurant is closed) happy hour from 3-6 offering $5 select wine, $6 well, $9 mules and specialty cocktails and snacks from $3.50-$7 such as edamame and beef tartare; Tiki Tuesdays with several options of tiki cocktails for $8; Wine/Whiskey Wednesdays with ½ off glasses of wine and select bottles and $8 Old Fashioned cocktails; Kill the Keg Thursdays with $5 drafts; and Sunday Lunch Brunch with $6 bloody Mary’s and $12 bottomless mimosas.

After five years, the critically-acclaimed The Blind Pig has proven to be a big hit with its customer base, so much so that a new location is in the works. Opening soon in Yorba Linda (about 30 miles to the north) in the Yorba Linda Town Center, the second location will offer expanded hours (open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner) and menu offerings, including an emphasis on dry-aged steaks and other cuts of meat and an intimate four-seat chef’s table for advanced bookings where Chef Pfleider can experiment with customized tasting menus.

But you don’t have to only take my word that The Blind Pig is a dining destination. In addition to being recognized as one of the top craft cocktail bars in South County, the restaurant has earned numerous accolades, like a coveted spot on Brad Johnson’s list of the Top 75 Dishes for the Orange County Register, and the restaurant has been called a “destination for diners from coastal communities like Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach” by the Los Angeles Times, among others. You owe it to yourself to experience the excellence for yourself. 

The Blind Pig is open Tue. 3 p.m.-11 p.m., Wed. & Thur. 3 p.m.-midnight, Fri. 3 p.m.-1 a.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-1 a.m., and Sun. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

The Blind Pig Kitchen + Bar

31431 Santa Margarita Pkwy

Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688

949-888-0075

TheBlindPigOC.com