Though at times I’ve been rightfully accused of embodying any one, or all, of these character flaws (or traits); I don’t mean to sound self-absorbed, self-centered, or self-obsessed when I say this—but it’s true, I do have amazingly smooth facial skin and to-die-for eyebrows.
Now modesty, as I’m sure you’ve now guessed, is a paper bag I can’t seem to argue my way out of, but alas, I’ve strayed from my point. When it comes to my practically poreless punim and architecturally arched eyebrows, I speak the truth. They are indeed amazing. And you know how I know? Because on countless occasions, complete strangers (mostly women, but a few men with questionable metrosexual status) have shouted from across the room of a crowded house party, tripping over guests to come and ask “what my skincare secret is,” or swung me around on the street with the grip of my shirt to tell me my “eyebrows remind them of pussycat ambrosia” (whatever that means).
Okay fine, it’s usually a lot less dramatic and awkward than that, but the unadulterated truth is this: I’ve been complimented, at many a time, on these two marvels of my physique. And I tend to find compliments given without prompt or gain, to be the real deal—aka genuine. And when they come from someone you don’t know, this is usually the case. So it was no surprise to me when a friend of a friend (stranger to me) asked me what my daily routine was and where I get my eyebrows done. She’d been visiting from New York and decided to table-bomb a reservation we had with a couple we know at Rich Table in Hayes Valley.
The five of us were sitting there and enjoying our delicious cocktails (Rich Table has an awesome bar program) and all of the sudden this “new girl” turns and says, “your skin looks like it hasn’t aged in years.”
Now I’m pretty good at taking compliments, especially the ones out of left field. I usually smile and just say “I know!” and then revel in whatever flattery I’ve just been bestowed with before moving on to talking about myself some more. And in this instance I did the same. I told her I exfoliate at least once a day (if you have sensitive or dry skin, this might be too much for you) and that keeps my skin fresh as a daisy.
I returned the favor—genuinely I might add—and told her I thought her skin “looked smoother than a baby’s tushie at a talc party.”
We laughed and she told me she’d been using this new $300 per ounce cream that’s comprised of salmon ejaculation. Yup! Someone’s jerking off salmon and collecting their sperm, and wealthy women all over the world (I’m guessing mostly in New York) are smearing it on their faces like I schmear lox spread on my bagel. No wonder the salmon are having trouble swimming upstream!
We all laughed at the lengths people will go through to stay young, and then we began talking about our eyebrows. I told them I had my parents to thank for genetically engineering me with my cool curves, and that all I did to maintain them was the occasional threading.
I took another sip of my delicious gin-based Iron Butterfly cocktail, and noticed the blank stares on their faces, which only prompted me to then explain what it means to have one’s eyebrows threaded. I told them it’s usually performed by some little Indian grandma, who has at least two teeth, or as many needed to bite down on the end of a piece of white string, that she’ll loop and twist around her fingers on both hands. She then manipulates the twisted string over the skin and moves it back and forth, and any hairs that get caught in the twisted threads are yanked out by the root, and voila! third-world hair removal sold to white people as an exotic facial treatment.
“That’s it?” they asked. To which I replied, “Well after that’s done, they use scissors to cut any hairs sticking up above the hairline.”
It felt good to broaden the group’s minds to a fantastic world of South Asian hair removal, a community I was thankfully introduced to by my Indian friends in college.
“Does it hurt?” they asked. And to that I replied, “Hell yeah! I cry like a little bitch every time and the Indian women laugh at me.”
And then they all started to share their eyebrow treatment stories; some involving tweezers, while others the more traditional wax. And when they began describing the need for using scissors to cut the wild and crazy “long ones” is when I went silent. Apparently, those long eyebrow hairs that grow above the eyebrow horizon are anything but cool and unique like I’d always thought them to be. I used to think of them as my special eyebrow hairs that were somehow reminiscent of being part cat with a hint of Euro-trash high fashion. When in fact, those were just the hairs that singled the dawn of a new era—old age.
While my friends, and this newbie, sat there and traded their worst Nair experiences I remembered all the bushy-browed geriatrics at the community center growing up. Eyebrows white and wiry like forest moss only more vertical.
I remembered the old Chinese guy playing the single-string guitar in the Powel Street BART station and how he had a few of these so-called “long ones” growing out of warts on his chin. And that guys like 103 years old!
All this time, between visits to my Indian threading lady (and no, I don’t know her name) I’d been caressing those long hairs back into the ranks with all the others, when I should have been yanking them out and drinking myself to sleep!
My mind went to a few bad places, all of which shared one thing in common; the fact that I was in my 30s and I’d never be a young 20 something again. Which, I know, to anyone in their 40s and up, is thinking “give me a break!” But you’re the demographic that knows what this feels like. You’re the ones who know how quickly it will be gone and before I know it I’ll go from 30 to 35 to 40 to…well…adult diapers and foods that look like pudding.
I took note of the fact grocery baggers now call me sir, and rarely call me kid or young man anymore. I thought about the pain in my back and what it must look like at the gym when I put my hand on my hip and try to stretch with an intense look of agony on my face. I thought about the hair loss medication I take and touched the back of my head where it’s hard to tell, but I really do think is thinning out, because I don’t remember it feeling like that just a few years ago.
One mention of taking scissors to their eyebrows and I’d gone through a fear-and-shame spiral into the depths of despair.
Life is fleeting, I thought to myself. I’ve got to make the most of it while I can. That’s when I had my epiphany. My mission was clear, and nobody was gonna stop me. I’d decided to overcome my fears and take on this new challenge one day at a time.
“And here’s the porcini doughnuts and sardine chips,” the waitress said, putting two beautifully plated dishes down in the middle of the table. Suddenly my mind was focused on something else, and I realized age is nothing to worry about. It is a number….but it’s really a state of mind. And my mind was focused on food!
Rich Table in Hayes Valley
I’d heard the mixologist behind Rich Table’s “market cocktails” was good, but after one sip of my Iron Butterfly I’d say they’re great! The cocktail is a combination of gin, sage, aperol, orange and white pepper. It’s the kind of drink that stings when it first hits your tongue, but then you can’t stop drinking it until it’s gone and you need another. And since that’s the kind of drink it was, I had another.
We started with one of Rich Table’s signature appetizers: the dried porcini mushroom doughnuts with raclette cheese dipping sauce. Each piece was light, not too greasy, and had a dash of porcini mushroom powder on top to give it some more of that sought-after umami kick.
We dipped them in the ooey gooey cheese sauce, that was delicious and sucked up like a sponge by the moist and steamy dough. Rich Table served these at their Outside Lands Music Festival booth, but they were covered in the sauce, making them a soggy mess. Having them at the restaurant was definitely the way to go!
And then we got the sardine chips with horseradish aioli, but not because of how they sounded from reading the menu, but from the description our waitress gave.
“We hand slice potatoes super thin and fry them with two slits in the middle where we weave the sardine through like a sandal.”
Not only was I impressed by the skill and effort that went into a sardine dish, which I feel is a totally underutilized ingredient, but the play on chips and dip and possibly fish and chips….was just too puntastic to pass up.
The third and final appetizer was the brandade with pickled tomatillos and bay shrimp chips. The chips were basically a fun vessel for bringing the rich and comforting fish brandade to our mouths. They did have a subtle shellfish taste, but that only complimented the fishy dip, which I can’t be sure, but I think (if it’s traditional) was made with salty cod and some cream. The pickled tomatillos sort of got folded into each bite and helped your tongue distinguish between fish and more fish. It was so good, Jonathan chose to lick the bowl clean when I suggested he rub some on his face and see if it’s the newest thing in skin rejuvenation.
One of the best things we had that night was the peached leaf cured halibut, with bone marrow and sunflower seeds and petals. I would go back to Rich Table in a heartbeat if I knew this dish was being served. The bone marrow was sprinkled about and practically melted into the sauce pooled beneath the fresh halibut pieces (like a sashimi). And with the garnish of peach cubes to add a tangy fresh sweetness to some very protein-rich bites was a delight. Talk about fresh! This dish is exactly what you think of when you think of innovative cooking with locally sourced seasonal ingredients.
Chamomile dressed watermelon, arugula and quinoa salad. The quinoa was airy and crunchy almost as if it had been cooked and then flash fried or toasted. It was the perfect accompaniment to the soft melt-in-your-mouth flesh of the cold sweet watermelon, and the arugula added that hint of bitterness to each bite.
Burrata, tomato, cucumber, and Douglas Fir vinaigrette salad. The star of this dish was, as it usually is, the creamy and soft burrata. It was so fresh, it’s as if the chef visited the dairy farm earlier in day and reached into the cow’s stomach to pull out some milk that had just enough time to firm up before cloaking it in a piece of the fresh in-season tomatoes and crisp blank canvas cucumbers.
Then we moved on to the second course, which started with a plate of pappardelle pasta with dry aged beef, roasted broccoli, and mint. The dry aged beef was mixed in with a nutty creamy sauce, but the past really shined through here. The mini broccoli florets were roasted until deep golden brown, adding a nice charred smoky flavor to compliment the richness of the beef. And the mint was just an interesting twist that threw our taste buds for a loop. It was a subtle sweetness that further played up the caramelization on the broccoli and the beef.
Chicken lasagne with green peas, ginger pickles, and anise hyssop (purple edible flower) was served in a light cream sauce. The lasagne pasta was perfectly cooked, and the chicken folded in between, was shredded which made it easy to attack with just a fork. This reminded me of a chicken pot pie, only this one was Italian inspired and classy.
We decided to do two entrees, one heavier, and one light. The lighter was the rainbow trout, green tomato, corn, fig, and toasted almonds. The skin was crisp and crunchy, and the sliced of fig were jammy and sweet. The green tomato broth brought acidity to the dish that was cut with the sweetness of the corn and ultimately the figs too. I’d never seen a combination of ingredients like this before and our entire group marveled at the beauty of the plate in front of us…. before digging in like savage beasts that is.
And because there were five us, when we’d only intended four, and the new addition was visiting us from New York with her “NY is better than SF for this, and that” bullshit, I insisted we order the New York steak with green chimichurri, crème Fraiche, and fried shallots.
Each medallion of meat was cooked perfectly, medium rare, and the chimichurri sauce was really special because it wasn’t as bitter as chimichurri usually is, being made with green beans instead of parsley. I was still full of garlic, which almost melted like butter over the seared steak skin. And the fried shallots…..what can I say….each bite was heavenly. And with regards to our visitor from New York, the one who crashed our dinner party (which was totally fine, because she complimented my eyebrows and smooth skin); well, let’s just say this….she kept her mouth shut for the rest of the evening when it came to comparing the Big Apple’s epicurean scene to our City by the Bay.
To sum things up, go to Rich Table in Hayes Valley and go fast! Email them, call them, or walk by and talk to the host; do what you have to do to get a reservation, but go. Because I predict it only getting harder to make a reservation if they keep wowing guests with their unpredictable intermingling of ingredients and palatable potations.