Genuine surprises don’t happen that often - maybe once in a lifetime, you get upgraded to first class. Or that one couple you thought would last as long as a neglected houseplant ends up sending you a wedding invite. But Rich Table is a restaurant in Hayes Valley that somehow manages to surprise us every time we eat here.
At first glance, the place looks like any other neighborhood spot, and the food doesn’t sound super exciting. In fact, there are similar rotating menus at places across San Francisco: individual small bites, some appetizers, a few creative pastas, and mains - and even the individual dishes don’t sound particularly revolutionary. But at Rich Table, what you read and what ends up on a plate in front of you is like someone telling you about their new Jaguar before opening the garage to show you a large jungle cat.
Even if you comb the menu word for word four times, almost none of the dishes come out looking or tasting anything like you imagined, but in the best way possible. There are perfectly salty and not too fishy sardine chips that have fish fillets actually weaved into each individual potato slice, spicy hamachi poke that comes with rice and nori to make your own individual handrolls, and a dry-aged steak that arrives to have bisque dumped overtop, and all of it is fantastic. It’s the kind of food you’ll want to order again for someone else, just to watch them get as weirdly excited as you did when you had it.
If it’s your first time here, the $99 Chef Picks tasting menu is the way to go - it’s the best value of any tasting menu in San Francisco. You get pretty much every single bite, along with one appetizer, pasta, fish, and a meat, plus dessert. But if you’re just here for a second date or a casual catch up with a friend you haven’t seen in forever, you could just as easily sit at the bar and split a few things over some wine and leave happy. That’s because pretty much any dish you order is good enough for it to be the only thing you get, down to the dense and slightly bitter douglas fir bread with incredible butter that you should definitely start with if nothing else.
Rich Table feels more like somewhere you’d go for brunch, or the neighborhood spot you rely on when all of your pots and pans feel like they weigh 800 lbs., rather than somewhere you need to make a reservation for a month out. But you should, because once you sit down and the servers start bringing food out, you’ll realize that Rich Table is something else entirely. It’s one of the rare places that’s only gotten better over the years and it’s one of the best restaurants in San Francisco.
We tried tree sap once as a kid and it was so bitter that we swore we’d never do it again. Somehow this bread makes eating a tree really enjoyable. It’s dense and only has a slightly bitter flavor from whatever part of the fir they use, and with the cultured butter, it’s a great way to start things off.
On top of the fact that this is an incredible Spanish omelet, it’s topped with caviar. You do the math.
A single potato chip with a sardine fillet weaved into it. It’s fishy and potato-y, and after you take a bite of one, you’ll want to sit around all day and eat a whole bag of them. But really, two is enough.
This is a cannoli filled with fish mousse and topped with everything bagel seasoning and chives. It’s kind of like eating the memory of a perfect everything bagel.
If we ever got caught in a cheap hourly motel, it’d hopefully be under a pile of these, and the heart-shaped jacuzzi inexplicably in the middle of the room would be full of the raclette they come with.
The hoe cake is the best thing in this dish, and everything else is still fantastic.
The beef flavor is very strong, but in the best way possible. Sharing is not an option. Hoard this like you’re Gollum and the dumpling is a shiny gold ring.
This is the most flavorful al pastor we’ve had in SF. Period.
If Bill Murray woke up on Groundhog’s Day with this in front of him, it would just be a 102-minute movie about a guy eating the same bowl of pasta every day and being very happy about it.
When they showed up with this and poured the bisque all over the steak, we freaked out a little. Now we get offended when people don’t dowse our food with shellfish soup because everything about this is amazing.
This pasta is served with more of a borscht puree than actual borscht. It’s hearty and good and should be on your table.
Picture a coconut cake. Make a drawing of it. Now light that picture on fire and extinguish it responsibly because this looks nothing like that. It’s more like a mixed-up key lime pie with a coconut-flavored muffin instead of a crust. At your lifetime achievement award acceptance speech, this is what you want them to serve with coffee.
You could be completely done with your meal, ready to sign the check, weigh a cab down a few inches, and get out of here more full than you’ve ever been before, but if you skip this dessert, you’ve made a grave mistake.