On March 18th, the Bay Area secured an incredible sixteen nominations for the 2013 James Beard Awards — basically the Oscars of the food world.
Over at 199 Gough Street, Evan and Sarah Rich, along with the whole Rich Table family, are basking in their recognition as one of the five best new restaurants in the country.
With the awards scheduled to be handed out this coming Monday night, we recently sat down with Evan to find out exactly how awesome it feels, and to get his thoughts on running a restaurant here in Hayes Valley.
When Evan and Sarah opened Rich Table a short eight months ago, they dreamed of a home not just for themselves, but for the patrons who they knew would come to love their food. Though they nearly invested in a space in a different neighborhood, the couple began pursuing their current location full-steam as soon as it became available.
"When Sarah and I came from New York, we just loved Hayes Valley," Evan said. "We were here for about five years, and it was always Hayes Valley. There's a style here that's great – we didn't do much research about who lives here, it was just a feeling. It worked out perfect."
They found the space they had been searching for in Hayes Valley, and their dream clientele soon followed.
"We have a very core group of regulars that come in often - I like to think of this as a neighborhood kind of restaurant, where we have a lot of friends come in once or twice a month."
Evan notes it was serendipitous that the simultaneously casual and savvy sensibilities of Hayes Valley residents match up so well with Rich Table's style of service.
"This location couldn't have been better for us," he told us, "because there are a lot of people in the tech industry. They don't get dressed up for work, they're casual, but they want things done well and thought out. They like their cocktails and conceptualized dishes, but they don't want to be in a stuffy environment. It's great to have people around the corner that work hard, so they appreciate the hard work that goes behind this."
Now that word has spread, Rich Table is enjoying the traveling crowd that frequents the restaurant.
"We get a lot of people from out of town who've read about our restaurant, and are very excited to see what we do. We aren't your traditional restaurant... what we do is simple and straightforward, and now people come in with an open mind and let us show off. Our background and experience shine through the food."
As if watching their dream come to fruition weren't enough, Evan describes the elation he and Sarah felt when they realized they had been selected for the long list of James Beard finalists.
"We were actually in India when we found out – it was really late at night, and we started getting all these messages, which was great. Then people were like 'Well, we'll see about the short list.' To be honest, that was exciting enough, just to be involved with the long list. Then when it happened, getting on the short list was amazing. You meet all these James Beard nominated chefs, and at least for me I never pictured myself as that person – then all of a sudden your restaurant is named and it feels like you're doing something right. It's been an amazing ride."
Don't expect the pomp and circumstance of the awards to change the way they do things at Rich Table.
"We want you to enjoy your company, we want you to enjoy the food," Evan explained. "There's no pretense – you don't have to worry about which fork you're using or how you're dressed, or if you laugh a little loud. We want you to have a good time, listen to music, and chill out. It just goes back to people trusting us to give them that experience. It seems the more fun we have, the better people enjoy it. I haven't had so much fun cooking in a long time."