The Blind Pig, Rancho Santa Margarita (photos by Paul Rodriguez, OC Register)
As I’m sitting on the patio at a new gastropub called The Blind Pig, watching the sun disappear behind Rancho Santa Margarita Lake, sharing a few small plates with good friends, catching intermittent glimpses of the Dodgers on one of the many flat-screens overhead, I’m reminded of something Wolfgang Puck said to me in an interview many years ago. He said he can almost always guess the age of a chef by counting the number of ingredients on his plate. The celebrity chef and I were discussing his own evolution in the kitchen, and he was musing about some of his earlier creations and how he, like so many young chefs eager to make their mark on the world, hid behind the false confidence of complexity before finally gaining the maturity and wisdom to step back and remove an ingredient or two. Less can be more, and it usually is. But it’s a lesson that takes time – sometimes many years — to sink in.
I’m thinking about this as I’m pushing my fork through a dish of olive-flavored quinoa that’s been splashed with a bouillabaisse-inspired vinaigrette in a bowl lined with sweet pepper puree, on top of which rest two entwined deep-fried prawns that have been very artfully showered with what might be pulverized peanuts and wisps of Manchego cheese. Putting all those flavors into my mouth at once is an assault on the tastebuds. The coveted prawns end up fading into the background.
Puck’s observation nags at me once again as I’m tasting the bone marrow — or, rather, not tasting it. The marrow disappears completely beneath a gale of smokey shallot marmalade, large pickled figs and pungent blue cheese – all interesting flavors on their own, but when they join forces like this they completely overwhelm the marrow’s inherent deliciousness…
When it comes time for dessert, the flavors become even more experimental. There are only two choices. One is an ice cream float made with great house-made vanilla ice cream, nutmeg syrup and Pellegrino sparkling water. The water makes it taste bitter and, well, watered down. The other is a cheesecake made from brie. This results in a much gooier, less sweeter cheesecake than normal, which is actually quite good. It’s served in a diminutive portion along with a spoonful of bright green ice cream. The ice cream has a sharp, bitter flavor that reminds me of freshly cut grass. “What kind of ice cream is this?” I ask. “Parsley,” the waitress says.
Parsley’s been around forever. So has ice cream. There’s a reason parsley-flavored ice cream hasn’t already become popular. It’s just not a great flavor. Oh, and they don’t serve coffee. “We don’t have room for a coffee machine,” the server says…
This is obviously just a synopsis. Want more? You can read my full review and see the star rating along an extensive slide show by photographer Paul Rodriguez in this week’s OC Register. Subscriptions are required. We don’t give away our work for free at the newsstand, and we don’t give it away for free online, either. If you don’t want to subscribe, you can simply buy a Day Pass — cheaper than a cup of coffee — for 24-hour access to the entire OC Register archive.