Expectations can be a double edged sword, if too high you can be disappointed when they aren't met, though if too low you can be pleasantly surprised. So it was that I made reservations to try out Rich Table, a newbie spot in town that had a lot of hype before it opened and even more so after it made it's official debut. The day after me and friend got a table there SFGate's Mr. Bauer raved about the place and a few weeks later SF Weekly's Anna Roth also heaped praise upon it. And, good or bad, I approached the place with these high expectations.

Located in the old Paul K. space in Hayes Valley by they Sarah and Evan Rich, they've toned down the stuffiness and made it moderately relaxed and homey with that whole tile, wood and steel industrial look that is prevalent in new spaces opening these days.

The menu doesn't so much change daily as it is adjusted daily depending on availability of product. More of the local, sustainable, organic movement popular right now. After perusing the bites we decided to kick off the meal with housemade wild fennel levain bread with house cultured butter and winter squash fritters with arugula salsa verde. 

Hands down, to me, these were the best two dishes we had. The bread was warm and chunky and earthy and hearty and any other adjective you'd like to throw its way. The fennel is strong in the bread and borders on a rye flavor so if are not a fan you may want to skip. It was both fluffy and dense at the same time and because it was warm the deliciously salty butter melted and soaked the bread like a sponge--basic bread and butter like it should be. The fritters were round little balls of deep fried pureed squash that I could have eaten a whole plate full of. Sweet, crunchy shelled delights combined with the garlicky, citrusy salsa verde and some roasted pumpkin seeds for texture made this (multiple) bite a winner. For my next bite I had squid, bacon and chicories salad with date vinaigrette. 

Sounded like an odd mixture but in a weird kind of way it worked. Yes, everything is better with bacon, and here it does add some nice smokey flavor to the salad. The squid was tender, not chewy, and the date vinaigrette was an appetizing contrast to the crunchy slightly bitter chicory leaves. And lets not forget the surprise of fried onions on top adding more crunch and sweetness. A big bowl with bright flavors in surprising combinations. 

For my entree I went with buttermilk poached chicken with beans, seeds and sprouts--and that is exactly what I got in a colorful array of fall colors it was a pleasing presentation. There is a spear of breast meat along with a square of thigh meat with crisped skin. The chicken was tender, juicy and had a nice buttery flavor to it without the minor sour taste that buttermilk can give on the follow through. The thigh meat was not quite as tender or juicy, nor did it have the same buttery flavor as the white spear. The skin also was not as crispy as I might have liked. There were definitely beans of all kinds--black-eyed peas, lima bean, butter bean--though some erred on the al dente side. The orange cherry tomatoes were a nice add and weren't cooked which I actually preferred. Overall this was an okay dish, however, I think I was expecting something more, and this is where expectations come in to play. While there was nothing too terribly wrong with the dish I guess I was not totally wowed by it. Beyond the butter flavor of the chicken there was not much else in the way of flavor or spice to make this stand and be the best chicken and bean dish in town. Decent, but not enough to draw me back to have it again.

I wanted to end the meal on a good note and being the dessert junkie I am picked the white chocolate mousse with salted chocolate biscotti like cookies and some berry compote. I spooned right into the mousse and from the minute it hit my tongue--it was not good. The best way I can describe the flavor that hit my taste buds is chemical. From first taste to aftertaste it was artificial and unpleasant. This sadly soured me on the whole dish. I tried to take a bite of the cookie which was like salty, crumbly chocolate, but I still had the mousse taste in my mouth and I could not finish or like what was in the bowl. I didn't even attempt the fruit--I was done. Fortunately, after I told the waiter he whisked it away and took it off the bill. We did get a visit from one of the owners, though I think that had more to do with the fact that my friend actually knew him (she didn't know this was his place) and he did offer us a nice glass of brute rose that served as a better dessert than the mousse. 

Does the place live up to the hype, hmm, hard to say, some big hits, some big misses--but that can happen when you change a menu daily and the chef doesn't have a chance to tweak or fix any inconsistencies that can pop-up in dishes. I'm not sure it deserved the 3.5 stars Bauer bestowed upon it as it's still a new place that can use some time to work the kinks out as it were. With so many people rushing to try out the place I'm sure they or at least hope they will get all things to come together and offer a meal that ends as well as it starts. 

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