A Rich, Rewarding Experience at Rich Table

The unforgettable sardine chips at Rich Table in San Francisco.

Sarah Rich is from the South. Her husband Evan Rich is from the East Coast. But after working together at Bouley in New York, they decided their destiny might very well lie in California.

“I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in New York,” Sarah Rich says. “I knew if we didn’t leave then, we’d never leave. So, I convinced him begrudgingly to give San Francisco a shot.”

The move proved beyond fruitful, and Bay Area diners are all the better for it.

Last summer, the couple opened their own restaurant, Rich Table in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood, on Sara’s birthday (July 26). Diners have been celebrating ever since then by packing into the 60 seats here.

The open kitchen at Rich Table.

The couple set out to create a restaurant they would want to eat at on their days off — casual, comfortable, yet with food cooked with impeccable ingredients, thoughtfulness and exemplary technique.

Recently, I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant, with its bustling open kitchen, and rustic-chic reclaimed wood tables and walls.

Of course, my friend Ben of FocusSnapEat and I had to start with the now famous sardine chips ($7). Evan Rich learned to make them at Bouley. Now, a starter on the “Bites” side of the menu, they have now become a must-order at Rich Table.  They’re like over-sized potato chips fried with a sardine woven into each one. How cool is that? You get four to an order, standing up in a small bowl with a big dollop of horseradish cream on the bottom. It’s like the most creative chips and dip combo ever.

The bread costs extra. But the home-made loaf is well worth the cost.

Bread is extra here. That’s because despite a tiny kitchen, they manage to bake their own in-house. It’s well worth getting, too. The sourdough levain ($4) comes with house-cultured butter. The bread is baked in a big loaf pan, so you get huge, thick slices just made for smearing the creamy butter all over. It’s heartier tasting than your traditional San Francisco sourdough loaf yet boasts the requisite fermented tang. It’s even good the next day, toasted for breakfast. The restaurant will happily pack up any extra slices you don’t finish for you to take home, too.

A Little Gem salad arrived at the table, crowned with an ample amount of Dungeness crab and a huge house-made saltine cracker ($13). The crab added a luxurious note to the crisp greens. You could break up the cracker to make like croutons or use it to scoop up the salad to eat with your fingers.

Crab salad with a giant house-made saltine cracker on top.

Crumbles of crunchy chicken skin top this chicory salad with apples.

Another salad of chicories and apple ($11) sounded innocent enough — until you got to the crunchy crumbles of fried chicken skin on top. And believe me, you want to get some in every forkful because they are a delightful addition to just about anything.

The kitchen sent out a platter of coppa, made just days ago. Made from cured pork shoulder and cut paper-thin with a rim of lovely fat, it just melts in your mouth. Dabs of mustard and peppery micro herbs helped cut through the rich meatiness.

House-made coppa.

Except for the spaghetti noodles that are imported from Italy, Rich Table makes all its pastas in-house, including tagliatelle with pork ragu, the surprising crunch of toasted almonds and juicy, crisp chunks of apples ($17). You already know how well pork takes to fruit, so imagine it all over wide, tender noodles. Sublime.

Even Brussels sprouts haters won’t be able to get enough of the garganelli ($18) tossed with the separated green leaves, as well as pork trotters, a fine dice of pears, and the wonderful blast of horseradish that revs up the sinuses but dissipates in time for you to enjoy another mouthful. The restaurant definitely has a way with incorporating fall-winter fruit into the pastas, adding a roundness to them.

Pork bolognese atop tagliatelle with apples and almonds.

Brussels sprouts, pork trotters and horseradish flavor this bowl of garganelli.

Rabbit with wild fennel levain stuffing, kale and pomegranate seeds.

Rabbit ($24) gets all done up here, with the loin rolled up and sliced into neat, uniform medallions topped with the vegetable of the moment, lacinato kale. Dig in and you’ll also discover a golden, crisp patty of comforting levain stuffing.

Sara Rich, who has experience working in both the sweet and savory sides of the kitchen, does the desserts ($9 each), which are none-too-fussy.

The caramelized olive oil cake never leaves the menu because it’s just that popular. The moist cake is dipped into sugar then seared in a hot pan, leaving the edges sugary crisp like a creme brulee. At this time of year, it’s served with a tropical guava sorbet and fresh kiwi. The technique is a great one to use on your own cake wedges at home.

The caramel panna cotta comes in a deep bowl blanketed in coffee crumbles, which look like topsoil. The texture of the panna cotta is very soft, much more like pudding than the classic rendition.

Olive oil cake made crispy along all the edges.

Chocolate sables with milk ice cream and chocolate mint cream.

Not your typical panna cotta.

Soft chocolate sables shaped like torn planks cover a scoop of milk ice cream. Extremely minty chocolate cream gets piped on top. It’s sort of like a deconstructed Girl Scout Thin Mint.

Rich Table is the kind of place you can come in jeans, put your elbows on the table and enjoy dishes that will satisfy without making you think too hard. It’s just what Sarah and Evan ordered.

More Places to Dine in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley: Absinthe

And: Boxing Room

And: Miette

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  • Thanks again for letting me tag along for an enjoyable meal! The coppa is the most memorable dish for me. I’m still trying to guess that herb flavor that added such a surprising layer of flavor to the meat! Everything at the table looks so hearty, but when you eat them you unveil the complexities and labor that went into each dish.

  • Hey Carolyn!! What a great restaurant and introduction to it! Awww! I’m digging that love story you told! haha. I initially thought the mustard were egg yolks! That’s probably something that would be more common here in Asia! And rabbit is definitely a treat! yummm!

  • Just when you think there is no possible delicious new food combination left in the world, something like this comes along!

  • Thanks for the review. I’m going there Sat evening! Glad it’s a casual place too! If I can only get one dessert which one do u recommend?

  • Those pastas look awesome. Will try later this year….

  • Everything looks so interesting and new but still like real food if that makes sense! Happy New Year Carolyn and I hope 2013 is a great year for you 🙂

  • Waw! What a lovely sounding restaurant!

    The dishes look fantastic & I enjoyed reading your opions about it all! 🙂

    A lovely post!

  • Wow does it all look so good! And I am always (still) amazed when chefs make everything – pasta, charcuterie, everything – from scratch. Kudos! What a marvelous experience!

  • Happy New Year Carolyn. I visited Hayes Valley for the first time last spring and LOVED the neighborhood. The next time I’m in SF/Hayes Valley, I’ll have to try it out. Sounds wonderful. And I did go to Miette. Brought my boyfriend’s mum a dozen macarons home to San Diego. She said they were some of the best.

  • Beautiful images that capture the full range of the choices on the Rich Table menu. That and your descriptions are a superb summary of the dining experience at this special new resturant.

  • Good thing looking at pictures of food isn’t fattening! Looks like a wonderful place. I’d love to be able to fatten up on the actual food, and not have to be satisfied with the pictures only! But maybe I’ll get out there and try the restaurant for myself – sounds incredible.

  • Pingback: Is Rich Table the Hottest Seat in Town? | Focus:Snap:Eat

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