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 excited as you did when you had it.
If it’s your first time here, the $125 Chef Picks tasting menu is the way to go—it’s the best value of any tasting menu in San Francisco, and includes everything from the appetizers to their incredible desserts. 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. And also because Rich Table is one of the rare places that’s only gotten better over the years and it’s one of the best restaurants in the city.
Douglas Fir Levain
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.
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.
Dried Porcini Donuts
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.
Aged Beef Wonton
The beef flavor is very strong, but in the best way possible. Sharing is not an option.
Tonnarelli, Sea Urchin Cacio E Pepe, Idiazabal
This classic Rich Table dish is usually always on the menu. The tonnarelli is tossed in a thick but not too heavy sea urchin sauce that also doesn’t taste too seafood-y.