I bet even husband-and-wife chefs Evan and Sarah Rich couldn’t predict the immediate success their new restaurant, Rich Table, would achieve in just a mere six months.
The restaurant, in the former Paul K spot in Hayes Valley, showcases the couple’s culinary lineage (he from Quince and she from Michael Mina, to name a few) and has garnered rave reviews from critics and industry folks. The restaurant is also nominated for a Best New Restaurant in America award from the James Beard Foundation.
So you can imagine a reservation is a tough thing to get at Rich Table, which, despite its name, is a very casual and unpretentious dining experience.
I was lucky to get into Rich Table when I joined my friend and former colleague Carolyn Jung, who pens the influential Food Gal blog. Carolyn was invited as a guest of the restaurant and she asked if I wanted to tag along. I said yes in a New York-minute.
We ate on the early side, but it only took a few minutes for the restaurant to fill up. The seating in the almost-barn-like interior is your typical crowded row of two-tops (the layout actually hasn’t changed much from when it was Paul K), which meant having a conversation is a bit rough with the cacophony of chatter going on in the packed 60-seat dining room.
The menu is an entertaining list of small bites and large plates, with ingredients that are constantly changing but all reflective of the chefs’ respect for the food and the farmers who produce them.
Carolyn and I ordered a few dishes to try, and as it happens when dining with Carolyn, the restaurant sent along a few additional plates to taste. So we got a full array of the dishes being produced from the busy open kitchen.
All the dishes were uncomplicated combinations of flavors and textures, with a few sporting new and adventurous ingredients. And while some dishes were outright artwork in plating, they were never pretentious.
The popular starter of sardine chips ($7) reflected the amount of labor put into the preparation of dishes. Slits are cut into thinly sliced potatoes and then a tiny sardine is woven into the slice before being fried, resulting in the unique sardine chip served with a generous dollop of horseradish.
My seasonal Dungeness crab salad ($13) was simple with little gem lettuce and fresh crab served with a rich sauce similar to a Crab Louie salad. I enjoyed how the little gems were shredded instead of whole, and the salad was topped off by a large saltine cracker, which had a texture similar to a light graham cracker.
An inventive Coppa di Testa (the Italian version of head cheese) topped with coffee mustard dollops was magical with its mysterious flavors. This dish wasn’t on the menu but I bet would probably come to your table if you ordered the “Chefs Picks” tasting menu of $75 per person. If you do get the coppa di testa, you’ll be lucky because the flavors of the thinly sliced coppa are rich and bright, with the addition of an herb that — for me — took the meat to another level.
Chef Rich’s pastas really shine as well, with their hearty plating and interesting flavor combinations. The two pastas that we tried (a tagliatelle with pork Bolognese for $17 and the garganelli with pork trotters for $18) both had fruit mixed in (apple in the tagliatelle and pear in the garganelli). The tiny bites of sweetness from the fruit added a freshness that mixed well with the well-cooked house-made pasta.
The meat dishes are more refined in presentation, so the servings might not be as hearty. Still, they reflected the laborious nature of the chef’s creations. Take the rabbit loin ($24) that was served with wild fennel levain stuffing. The medallions of nicely roasted rabbit were methodically plated with the stuffing pan-seared into little mounds and crispy kale leaves adding a burst of color along with the sprinkling of pomegranate seeds. A vibrant green smear of kale sauce at the bottom added a nice twist to a plate that was reminiscent of the flavors of Thanksgiving.
Dessert can be a mixed bag, although on paper they all looked innovative. A caramel panna cotta with coffee crumble (that actually looked like black sesame seed) had incredible flavor but the texture was more like a butterscotch pudding that panna cotta. An olive oil cake was simple and clean, but dressed up by lightly pan-frying the slice of cake with refined sugar for a caramelized edge. It came along with a scoop of guava sorbet.
The mint chocolate cream, however, was a refreshing dessert both in the fresh spearmint flavor in the light cream and in the beautiful plating of the cream with thin chocolate wafers and caramel dollops.
Because I was a guest at this dinner, I’m not doing my typical rating system for this review. But Rich Table definitely is a place creating quite a buzz, for good reason, and is a restaurant I’d definitely return for more.
For Carolyn’s recap of the dinner, check out her post here.
Rich Table, 199 Gough St. (at Oak), San Francisco. PH: 415.355.9085. Open Wednesday through Monday (except Tuesday) from 5:30 to 10 p.m. (till 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). Reservations and major credit cards accepted. richtablesf.com
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