One of the highlights of Outside Lands two or three years ago was watching Sarah and Evan Rich of Rich Table toss freshly fried porcini doughnuts into the crowd from the Gastro Magic stage while an unfriendly British DJ — who’d unceremoniously rejected a proffered doughnut on grounds of gluten intolerance — spun some beats. It was surreal and hilarious, and they didn’t even pelt anyone with the accompanying raclette dipping sauce.
In the meantime, the Riches have busied themselves with RT Rotisserie, a casual, chicken-focused project around the block from Rich Table, their upscale, highly regarded New American restaurant in Hayes Valley that straddles the line between perennial classic and true dining destination. While we strongly recommend porcini doughnuts to anyone who doesn’t have celiac disease, here are five standout dishes from a recent visit to Rich Table, which prove that standards at this New American restaurant (under chef de cuisine Brandon Rice) haven’t slid one bit since its illustrious 2013 debut. And while undeniably a special treat at $95 per person with a $75 drink pairing, this is a veritable bargain measured against some of the city’s tasting menus.
Fried chicken madeleine with Tsar Nicoulai caviar
The confection closely associated with Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time plus a caviar named for a Russian autocrat? It doesn’t get more aristocratic than that — except the caviar is sustainably raised American white sturgeon, and the madeleine has fried chicken in it. Flawlessly complementary yet borderline populist (if you squint just so), this savory $14 morsel is a must.
Yahoo Serious and Men at Work are long-gone, but avocado toast is one Australian import that’s here to stay. Rather than replicate something that’s been done to death, Rich Table decides to make the topping into a base. With a smoked trout schmear, and a thick layer of seeds, this avocado ($17) effectively becomes a bread-free everything bagel, hidden in a nest of sprouts. It’s brilliant.
Xiao long bao with kale salsa verde
We’re going a little heavy on the small nibbles, it’s true, but sometimes that’s where the surprises lie in wait. Here, kale salsa verde is chimichurri-like in its intensity, and the thicker-than-average dumplings ($5 for two) have the structural integrity to hold up against their soupy filling and the pungent topping without disappearing.
Another reinvented classic — which Rich Table seems to adjust with the seasons — this polychromatic patty ($20) sits wedged between a bottom layer of sushi rice and several strata of tempura, kelp, and sea urchin. There’s always a danger zone with that last ingredient, which can become as much of a crutch as truffle oil, but here it’s kept in check by a wild array of textures.
We want to crow about the ramp and snow pea lo mein, but we’ll just leave the mystery intact and talk up the $33 halibut instead. Firm and lean, it’s garlanded with a wreath of English peas, kumquats, and edible flowers that’s almost Art Nouveau in its presentation. Rich Table doesn’t operate on a model of restraint, yet there’s nothing about this plate that goes overboard, either. Abundance like this just before spring’s full bounty hits is what makes a person glad to live in California.
Rich Table, 199 Gough St., 415-355-9085 or richtablesf.com