Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Rich Table

Rich Table opened in 2012 to pretty much instant local acclaim.  A cute story, a husband and wife team of chef-owners, who opened their first restaurant together.  He makes their fancy cultured butter, she makes the homemade bread.  A casual, neighborhood environment, but with fairly refined food.  Seasonal market focused menu that is constantly changing, with a few unique signature dishes.  Reasonable pricing.

I've wanted to visit Rich Table for quite a while, but, reservations are notoriously hard to come by (although, they've never been awarded a Michelin star).  I was finally able to visit when invited by a VIP guest, who was able to secure us a table for 4 on a Sunday night, in the 5:45pm seating.

The Space

Rich Table is located in Hayes Valley, just a few blocks from the Van Ness station.  The space is casual but manicured, if that makes any sense, in that it is clearly designed, but designed to feel homey.  It is as comfortable as possible, but, the space is small, so the cramped nature does reduce some level of comfort.
Front Door - Curb Appeal!
The front entrance is very inviting, with a rather homey looking wooden red door.
Front Window.
The curbside appeal extends to the large window, stone work, and even a bench to sit on.  It is far more attractive than the surrounding area.
Seating.
The casual but attractive decor extends inside as well, with whitewashed wooden bench seating complete with throw pillows, and walls made with large wooden slats.

Most tables are just small tables for two, with only a handful of 4-6 person tables.
Open (Tiny) Kitchen.
The kitchen is open, and absolutely tiny, positioned in the corner behind exposed wooden beans.
Place Setting.
Tables were set in advance of our arrival, with simple fork and knife, plate, and white linen napkin.  The napkin mirrored the homey feel that the throw pillows and casual wooden elements established.

Our plates and silverware were changed out between courses.

Dinner

Everything at Rich Table is designed to be shared family style, so we were able to order a selection of menu items, some from all sections of the menu.  The pastas and desserts were the weakest dishes, the signature Bites were as unique as I expected, but, besides the steak, we didn't have anything particularly worth going back for.
Menu Board.
The food menu (top) at Rich Table is broken into several sections.  The three main sections are not labelled in any particular way, but if I had to make up names, I'd call them: "Larger Appetizers", "Pasta", and "Main Dishes".

Down the side of the menu ran labelled sections, with "Bites", "Bread & Butter", "Oysters", and the option to feast family style with the chefs picking your menu.

We ordered from all the major sections, skipping only the oysters and bread.

The bottom menu was cocktails, beer, and wine, plus house made soft drinks.

Drinks

My hosts brought a bottle of wine, so I did not order any drinks, besides sparkling water, from the drink menu.

Ojan however ordered a house made soda, as they sounded interesting.  He has the choice of strawberry-verbena, douglas fir, lemon-lime, cherry-lavender, or mexican cola.
Cherry Lavender. $6
Ojan took one sip and declared, "Woah, that's weird."

Given that reaction, I had to try it.  It was very sweet, but the cherry flavor was good.  A unique drink, if nothing else.

Bites

I knew from my research that the Bites section of the menu is what first brought Rich Table acclaim.  The sardine chips and porchini mushroom doughnuts are hands down, the most talked about, blogged about, instagrammed about, etc dishes.  But the other Bites also sounded great, so, we ordered every single item from the Bites section (save the avocado since I'm allergic).

The Bites seemed strangely portioned to me.  The chips are sold individually.  The doughnuts come as an order of 5.  The fritters as 4.  The spring roll, only one per order, cut in half.  It seemed like no matter your group size, these portions would always be a bit awkward.  It was also a bit odd that the varied serving sizes weren't mentioned to us.  When we ordered the spring roll for example, the server could have asked if we were all planning to try it, and suggested doubling up on it.  Instead, we had two pieces of spring roll for 4 people.

The first 3 of our Bites came at once, with a steady trickle of the remaining dishes a few minutes later.  This was good pacing, as receiving them all at once would have just covered our table in dishes, been overwhelming, and the hot dishes would have gotten cold before we could try them all.  I appreciated the staggering.
Dried Porcini Doughnuts / Raclette. $9.
In the first wave of dishes, the very first dish I reached for was Rich Table's second-most-famous dish: dried porcini doughnuts with raclette dipping sauce.

Yes, take a moment for that one to settle in.  Hot fresh savory doughnuts, with liquid cheese to dip them in?  No wonder people go nuts.

The doughnuts were piping hot and fresh from the fryer, not oily.  The texture was good, very doughy, in a way that I liked.  They didn't scream "MUSHROOMS!", but had slightly earthy tones from the porcini powder they were rolled in.  Good, savory doughnuts.

The raclette was actually really fluffy, cheesy, and, like the doughnuts themselves, it was served warm.  I'm glad I went for this dish first, while it was all hot.

We all liked this, but, no one loved it enough to go for the 5th extra.  I really wanted the molten raclette stuffed inside the doughnuts, rather than as a dipping sauce, like the ridiculous cheese foam injected donut "tanks" from Fill 'R Up Gastro Garaje in LA.
Sardine Chip / Horseradish Crème Fraiche. $2/each.
Next I went for the famous sardine chips.  Yes, a chip, with a sardine threaded through it.  Unique, for sure.

I actually wanted to reach for it first, but, since the doughnuts were hot and it was not, I had to prioritize.

The chip was crispy, but a bit oily, as you can see it glistening here.  The sardine was super salty, which was perfect with the chip, but rather chewy, in a way that made it a bit hard to eat.

The chips were served with horseradish crème fraiche, a fun play on chips and dip, although I didn't taste horseradish.  There was also a single leaf of ... baby kale?  It was at this point that I noticed that every dish came garnished with some kind of fresh seasonal green.

Overall, this was fine, and certainly unique.  I'm glad I finally got to try it, but I don't think I'd order it again, as the chewy nature of the sardine was a bit off-putting.
Fresh Spring Roll / Dungeness Crab / Fried Peanut. $11.
The third Bite that arrived at the start of our meal was the fresh spring roll, a light contrast to the fried carby items.

Inside the standard spring roll wrapper was crispy cucumber and a generous amount of fresh crab.  I got totally distracted talking about local Dungeness crab, and somewhat forgot to take real notes on this.  I couldn't stop thinking about crab night at Camino, in Oakland, which I was busy recommending to our fellow diners.

There were two sauces on the plate, a peanut sauce and a chile sauce, that you were supposed to mix together.  I somehow managed to just get a big spoonful of the chile sauce, and found it really hot, but, everyone else had them mixed and didn't think there was much spice.  Perhaps I got all the spice?  The peanut sauce was very chunky, a texture I liked, but made it hard to dip into.

The random green garnish here was a sprig of something.  Like I said, every dish had a random green garnish.  

The spring roll came as only two halves, which made sharing a bit awkward.  Luckily, our group of 4 was two couples, so each couple took one, and did the portioning.  In my case, this meant I got first dibs, and my partner took the second half after I was done.  The other couple tried to more politely cut their piece in half, but that just squished and mangled the whole thing.  The server really should have warned us about this portion size.

Anyway, this was good, a fresh, light, tasty dish, although not particularly novel.  It was the dish of the night for one diner.
Brandade Croquettes / Tikka Masala / Pickled Lime. $9.
Our next pile of Bites started with the brandade croquettes.  The order came with 4, one for each of us, but I decided to skip it.  We had way too much food coming, and they looked kinda burnt and dried out, and were less interesting to me than other things on our lineup.

The random green garnish here was a fresh pea tendril, which also showed up in the next dish.

The others didn't comment much on this dish, so I don't think it was particularly interesting to them either.
Corn Tempura / Aioli / Cotija Cheese. $9.
Our final Bite was corn tempura.

From reading reviews before my visit, I knew that this would be individually fried tempura corn kernels, but that is certainly not what I would have expected prior to seeing photos.  Everyone else seemed confused by it, expecting something more like a corn fritter.

Anyway.  I like fried things.  I like tempura.  I love aioli.  I like dipping fried things in aioli.  But ... that was hard to do with this form factor and plating.  The individual fried corn kernels meant that you couldn't pick them up.  This was not finger food.  The aioli was all on the bottom of the plate.  It made the tempura bits get soggy, and, I couldn't take a forkful of tempura corn and dunk it in the aioli.  I wanted more, separate aioli for optimal dunking.  And lastly, the corn tempura was too oily, it left an oily aftertaste in my mouth.

Sadly, I just didn't care for this dish, even though it sounded on paper like one I'd love.  Ojan even called it out, noticing that I wasn't polishing off the plate, asking what was wrong, because it was a dish that I should have loved.  And I would have, if it were less oily, and had more aioli ...

I'll give a shout out to the fresh pea tendrils on top though.  Crisp, peak season, and really delicious.

Starters

The Starters section (as opposed to just "Bites"), had 4 items, larger than the Bites.  Since we got so many Bites, I would have been fine skipping these, but, one other diner wanted the burrata, and, really, when will I ever turn down burrata?  We ordered just that one.  The dishes we passed up were grilled asparagus, beef tartar, and chicken liver mousse.  Asparagus and chicken liver mousse are dishes I would have ordered on any other day, so this really just a testament to how amazing the whole menu was, that I was able to not select dishes that sounded perfectly appealing.

Our starter came about 20 minutes after the last Bite, and 15 minutes before our entrees, again, good pacing.
Burrata / Strawberry Gazpacho / Country Ham. $10.
This dish was as fascinating as you might guess, given the description.

It was, indeed, a pool of strawberry gazpacho and big chunks of fresh burrata, topped with ham, greens, and furikaki spiced rice crispy rice.

One diner took a bite and said, "its like strawberry greek yogurt!"

The gazpacho was sweet and fruity, yet spicy too.  The burrata was creamy and delicious, as, well, it was burrata.  Hard to go wrong with fresh burrata.  The greens and finely sliced snap peas added freshness and color.  I think this was the same garnish as the spring roll?  The crumble on top was furikake spiced puffed rice, super crispy, and a fun touch.

It was a very intriguing combination of flavors and textures, and things you'd never expect to work well together, yet, somehow, it did.  Although, now that I think about it, fruit and cheese do make sense together, and obviously ham and cheese make sense, so, why not put it all together, and turn the fruit into a gazpacho?  The other diners summed it up when they said, "its just confusing".  I agree, it was confusing, but, I think I liked it.

I know the porchini doughnuts and the sardine chips get all the credit for being the unique offerings at Rich Table, but this one was far more fascinating to me.  Not necessarily more tasty, but, it kept me engaged.  It was the favorite dish of one diner.

Pasta

Rich Table is known for their pastas, which I knew, and our server made sure to tell us as well.  The menu had four pasta choices, which could be coursed out as a mid or an entree.  We opted to order two pastas and one entree, and have them coursed together.

I would have been happy with any of the four pastas, but the carbonara was my first pick, and the lobster tagliatelle was another diner's top request, so, we went with those two, skipping the bucatini (with triple cream!) and the braised duck and cherry lasagna (which, I'll admit, sounds a bit odd, but looked delicious).

I wonder if we just made poor choices, as neither pasta was great, and the pastas are something Rich Table is really known for.
Chitarra / Ramp "Carbonara" / Aged Gouda / Egg Yolk. $18.
The chitarra carbonara was really quite disappointing.

Not that it was bad exactly, but it was really, really boring.  The pasta itself was cooked al dente.  The sauce was creamy.  But ... there was just no flavor.

On top, of course we had a random green garnish, here it was a few leaves of ... baby arugula?

This dish simply had nothing going on.  I certainly didn't taste ramps or even gouda.  This went unfinished.
Tagliatelle / Maine Lobster / Corn Bisque / Peach / Caraway. $23.
The tagliatelle fared better.

Again, nicely cooked pasta in a creamy sauce.  This time, the sauce, sweet corn bisque, had flavor.  I really liked the crunch from the caraway crumble on top.

The chunks of soft, cooked peach mixed in were a bit odd.  Peaches and lobster?  Peaches and pasta?  It didn't not work, but, it was certainly different, and very sweet.  Perhaps a bit too sweet as part of a main dish.  There was a not a lot of lobster, but I wouldn't expect there to be at this price point.  The lobster was nicely cooked, not rubbery.

Overall, better than the other pasta, and I did like the sauce, but, I probably wouldn't get it again.

Main Dishes

The menu had 4 different main dishes.  Since we were going so heavy in the other areas of the menu, we opted to only order a single main, which was served at the same time as our pastas.

I was tempted by the halibut, since I really love halibut (and it came with grits!), but, I eat both halibut and grits regularly, so, that didn't seem very special.  I was really intrigued by the vegetarian main, a corn cake with "seeded cream cheese", strawberries, and sprouts, but I also had no real idea what that would be like, and no one else in the group was drawn in by that one.  So this left the pork chop or the ribeye.  Our choice was made not by the protein itself, but by one of the elements: Dungeness Crab Butter.  Yes.

It was an excellent choice, and I wonder more why the main dishes don't get more accolades.
Grilled Ribeye, English Pea, Potato, Dungeness Crab Butter. $34.
Ok, a steak is perhaps not the most sharable dish, I know.  But, they did say everything on the menu is designed to be family style, and, it was a vary large steak.  Amusingly, it was served with a fork and a spoon (although they brought us each a steak knife for our individual place settings).

I can't say this dish looked like I expected it to.  I expected a more classic preparation, a steak, potatoes on the side, scoop of peas, pat of butter on top.  Where were the potatoes?  And, that promised Dungeness crab butter?  I also can't say that it looked ... very appealing.  But one bite in I stopped caring what it looked like.  It was delicious.

Ojan took one bite of this, and instantly declared, "This dish makes me realize why people like ribeye".  Neither Ojan nor I tend to like ribeye, and always opt for filet, as ribeye tends to be chewier, fattier than we like.

But the ribeye was ridiculously good.  It was really well prepared, tender and juicy, not chewy, the considerable fat perfectly rendered.  It was well seasoned, very salty, in a good way.

The peas came in two forms, a smooth english pea puree at the base of the plate and a chunky pea pistou (or was it a chimichurri?) on top.  The peas were fresh, flavorful, and delicious.  I really enjoyed both pea elements.  Hello, spring!

The potato was crispy fried potato strings perched on top.  I loved the crunch they added.  I'm not sure exactly where the butter was, I think the steak must have been basted with it, as it was glistening and there was no obvious butter on the plate.  I didn't actually taste anything craby at all, but, I didn't care.  The dish was good anyway.

Everyone at the table liked this dish.  It was the dish of the night for both Ojan and I, although our dining companions happen to be serious steak connoisseurs, and said they can source, and cook themselves, a better steak.  We await our invitation, and, in the meantime, we'd gladly get this again.

Dessert

Dessert menu.
The dessert menu featured 4 sweet desserts and a cheese.  The selection wasn't exciting to me, and seemed like it was aimed a bit too much to please the masses.  A cake, a pudding, a chocolate dish, and something frozen.

I avoid chocolate at night due to the caffeine, so we quickly ruled that out.  I love pudding, but the panna cotta was lemon, and I don't care for citrus desserts.  Still, you know me, I have a serious sweet tooth, and we needed dessert.

It seemed that nothing was jumping out at anyone else either.  No strong votes for any dishes, so, we opted to double up on the cake, and added the frozen dessert our server strongly recommended.

The desserts were fine, but, they weren't special nor memorable.

Alongside my dessert I ordered decaf coffee, as always.  I love having a bitter coffee to pair with a sweet dessert.  Unfortunately, the coffee didn't come until at least 5 minutes after dessert.  It was good (Sightglass, served in a french press), but, given that we had one warm dessert and one melting dessert, I couldn't wait for it to arrive, and had to drink it after.  Next time, I'd explicitly ask to have that timed differently.
Pistachio Coffee Cake / Strawberry / Buttermilk Ice Cream. $11.
The dessert I was mildly interested in was the coffee cake.

Now, I'm not really one for cake (its in the same category as cookies for me, generally just meh), but, I do have a soft spot for coffee cake.  Not generally for dessert, but, a good streusel topped coffee cake makes a wonderful compliment to a morning cuppa.

Anyway, this was ... not really a coffee cake.  We all had the same initial reaction of "um, this isn't coffee cake".  I mean, it was cake, and it was round, but ... no streusel?  No cinnamon?  One diner said it was more like a soft scone.  To me, it was just boring cake.

The cake was served warm, which I appreciated.  Warm dessert with cold ice cream is a winning combination (although, I prefer the warm element to be a crisp, cobbler, pie, etc).  One point for the warm dessert.

The strawberries were glazed and super sweet.  They reminded me almost of canned strawberries, the goo surrounding them was that thick.  I like sweet, but, I didn't really like these.  Ojan told me to think of them like the strawberries my mom uses for strawberry shortcake, macerated with tons of sugar.  I almost could see the strawberry shortcake aspect of this dish, as it was cake and sweetened berries, but, the glaze was just too much.

The buttermilk ice cream was tasty though, it had a nice tang to it.

If I composed a bite with all of the elements, warm soft cake, sweet fruit, crunchy pistachios, and tangy creamy ice cream, it was enjoyable, but, overall, this was fairly lackluster.  One other diner said it was "not a very desserty dessert", which perhaps explains why it wasn't for me.  I like serious desserts, and this almost seemed more like a breakfast item to me.  I wouldn't get it again.
Cherry Ice / Sorrel / Almond Milk Ice Cream. $11.
Our other pick was the cherry ice.

This was an odd pick, but, when I asked the server if he had a favorite, he got a dreamy look in his eye, and told me the cherry ice.  I think he realized how it was a strange pick, particularly when compared to something like dark chocolate ganache.  I also recalled a surprised positive review about it when I browsed Yelp too, so, putting the two recommendations together, we went for it.  Why not try something totally different?

And different it was.  Not bad, but, very different.

Cherries and almonds were the primary ingredients, each featured in multiple forms.  The namesake cherries made up the light refreshing granita on top, but there were also fresh, tart halves of cherries underneath.  The almond milk ice cream was quite good, I found the almond flavor to it lovely, and I was surprised by how well the almond and cherry flavors combined.  There was also roasted almond slices as a layer in the bowl, which added more almond flavor and some crunch.  On top was chiffonade sorrel, you know, green garnish.

Overall, I enjoyed eating this dish, largely because it was different.  I appreciated that they worked the fresh cherry and crunchy almonds in, to boost the flavor of the granita and the ice cream, but also to add some other textures.  But, would I get it again?  Nah.  Again, just not my style of dessert, but it was a really refreshing and light option, so if you are into granitas and fruit, then, I'd recommend.
Rich Table Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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