Rich Table in the Hayes Valley section of San Francisco has only been open for a little over 2 months, but already the food and service have impressed the local critics. Michael Bauer in the San Francisco Chronicle has said, “It was ironic and symbolic that my first visit to Rich Table was the night of the blue moon, because only once in a blue moon does a restaurant like this come along.” ( 3½ stars, September 30, 2012) In San Francisco magazine, Josh Sens says, “Elements of surprise…Rich Table might sound like every other joint in town, but it’s not.” (3 stars, October, 2012) 7×7 San Francisco has selected Sarah and Evan as the chef representatives in their annual “The Hot 30″. (October, 2012)
With all that publicity, it may not be a surprise that the reservation book is filled for the next three months, but even if you can’t get a reservation, don’t despair. There are a few seats at the communal table deliberately left open for walk-ins. The bar is always humming, so you may need to sit on an outside bench to wait your turn.
How did a new restaurant get up and running so smoothly in such a short time? Only part of the answer is the talent of the chef-owners, Sarah and Evan Rich. The other part is the professional staff who work together comfortably, more like a family than a restaurant crew.
Maz has taken on responsibility for running the front of the house after working in the wait staff and as beverage manager for years at Coi. He has put together a menu of creative cocktails and an excellent choice of wines and beers that complement the food.
James and Nick have worked as cooks with Sarah and Evan for years, and so watching them in action is like watching a well-practiced athletic team. They have been joined by Bayoni, Miles, and Andrew. How all these folks fit in the tiny open kitchen is a mystery, but without a misstep they work with one another to turn out the orders beautifully composed and on cue.
Michael and Charles left good, long-time positions in high-end restaurants to join the team. Rachel and Jamie, the runner, have also become team members. This makes a first-class, friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable front-of-the-house crew.
We visited San Francisco a few days ago with plans to eat at Rich Table. As parents of one of the chefs, Sarah, we thought that would not be a problem, but in a text message, Sarah gently reminded my wife that we need to let her know our plans , otherwise she could not guarantee a space.
We wound up sitting at the communal table with a party of five from France. They were making the “Great Circle Tour” of the American West. Even with limited English on their part and non-existent French on ours, we enjoyed a chat and wound up sharing some food. They cleaned their plates and enjoyed the restaurant. I heard one say, “Magnifique.”
We spent three hours eating everything that Sarah sent out to us. Here’s what we ate:
SPANISH CAVA WITH BEAU SOLEIL OYSTERS FROM NEW BRUNSWICK, CANADA
Canadian oysters in California! Delicious and ocean salty. Still, the highlight is the crushed squash blossom mignonette. The sauce is beautiful with green and yellow-orange confetti. It is also tasty with an acidic base that complements the salty oysters.
SARDINE CHIPS WITH HORSERADISH ANCHO CRESS
This is rapidly becoming a signature dish of Rich Table. Big, crisp potato chips have a slender sardine fillet woven in the middle raising the question, “How do they do that?” The horseradish sauce is a perfect foil. CAUTION: you can’t eat just one!
WINTER SQUASH FRITTER WITH PRESERVED LEMON AND ARUGULA SALSA VERDE
Another signature dish, corn fritters, has been transformed for the fall season into winter squash fritters with the sweet, creamy filling, crispy crust, and salty toasted squash seeds as a garnish.
HOUSE-MADE BLACK GARLIC MORTADELLA WITH HOT MUSTARD
This in no way resembles the usual bologna-like mortadella. The sausage is a silky mousse of pork laced with lardons of pork fat and bits of black garlic, a smoked and aged garlic that has a nutty, woodsy flavor.
RAW KING SALMON WITH CUCUMBER AND DOUGLAS FIR TOPPED WITH SALTINE TUILE DOTTED WITH YOGURT AND FORAGED PURSLANE
Almost too beautiful to eat – well, almost! The salmon hides below a paper-thin tuile of saltine decorated with polka dots of yogurt and “bows” of foraged purslane. The decorations are delicious. The salmon and cucumber are superb.
HEIRLOOM TOMATO SALAD WITH BURRATA AND TOASTED SEAWEED
Sort of a sophisticated caprese. The tomatoes multi-hued, each with its own synthesis of sweet and tart. The burrata is creamy and a notch above the usual mozzarella, even the house-made, fresh variety. Seaweed for basil? So Japanese and so different.
PLANCHA BREAD, RABBIT SAUSAGE, CORN, AND RED FRILL MUSTARD
Toppings for the plancha bread, done on one of the flat-top stoves, change frequently For our visit, rabbit sausage and corn were a perfect balance. Mustard served as both greens and sauce.
GARGANELLI WITH LAMB SAUSAGE AND ARUGULA
This unusual and beautiful pasta originated in Romagna and was rolled on a weaving comb to produce indentations before it was formed into cylinders resembling the breathing tubes of chickens (hence the name). Here it is topped with a light brown sauce faintly seasoned with tomato and the juices from lamb sausage. The sauce is perfect for dipping with bread.
WILD FENNEL LEVAIN AND HOUSE-CULTURED BUTTER
The perfect bread for dipping – but also for eating by itself or with the house-made cultured butter. There are lots of excellent, famous bakeries in San Francisco – Acme, Grace, and Tartine to name a few – but this house-made bread has become another signature dish. The bread is made with a sourdough starter that has been maintained for years. The scent and subtle taste of foraged wild fennel pollen makes it unique. The butter is made from milk and culture that have been aged together for two days. Then the mix is churned. The butter is pressed and aged for another several days while the pungent buttermilk is saved for other uses. (You’ll see more about that later.)
TAJARIN WITH CUITLACOCHE
The pasta originated in the Italian Piedmont. It is thicker than capellini but thinner than spaghetti. In Alba, a traditional dish is tajarin served with a sauce of black truffles. Thus, it is appropriate with cuitlacoche (corn smut, maize mushroom), a fungus that sometimes develops on ripening ears of corn. In Mexico it is a great delicacy and has been called “Mexican truffle”. Small wonder because it brings a chestnut color to the sauce along with a complex earthy aroma and taste which are clearly reminiscent of fresh truffles at the peak of the season.
RABBIT CANNELLONI, NASTURTIUM, SUNGOLD TOMATOES
An elegant pasta roll filled with tender rabbit and bathed with an herbal, slightly sweet sauce that makes you want more. The nasturtiums with their delicate blossoms and showy tiger stripes look too beautiful to eat, but they’re not. An elegant dish.
KING SALMON, BOK CHOY, TOASTED BUCKWHEAT, YOUNG GINGER
The bok choy and subtle ginger set an Asian note while the crunchy toasted buckwheat kernels offer an interesting contrast to the tender salmon fillets.
SWEET GLAZED PORK DUMPLINGS, BRAISED ESCAROLE, RADICCHIO
Delicate rolls if pasta stuffed with a fluffy farce of pork augmented with airy egg whites and unctuous pork fat. The sweet glaze is caramelized so that the dish becomes a sophisticated pot sticker.
That’s it – only thirteen savouries, and we finished all of them. Then came dessert.
The dish came to the table resembling a drift of melon-colored snowflakes, and the first spoonfuls added to the image. Then the surprise: buried in the bottom were perfect cubes of ripe melon and a ball of melon-flavored cream made with a siphon.
PANNA COTTA WITH PLUMS AND ALMOND CRUMBLE
So good that Susan started eating before I could take a picture, so here is an image of the fresh peach version from earlier in the season. This has become another signature offering.
PLUM CAKE WITH BUTTERMILK ICE CREAM
The cake oozes moisture and flavor. Not too sweet, but sweet enough with the subtle flavor of seasonal plums and a poached plum on the side along with a quenelle of buttermilk ice cream, tangy and smooth as silk. The buttermilk comes as a by-product of the house-churned butter. Some by-product!
That was it! No more, though no more was needed. Clearly a tour de force of creative American cooking with overtones of French, Italian, and Japanese. Can’t wait to visit again.