The Rice Table


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A Caveat

Founded in 1969, the Rice Table must be one of the oldest restaurants in the Bay Area. It serves westernized (read "mild") Indonesian food in a small, tiki-filled space in San Rafael. It had been on my list of restaurants to visit for at least a decade, but the trek to Marin always seemed too imposing. Finally, our friends Charlotte and Daniel moved to San Rafael, giving us an excuse to try the restaurants in that part of the bay.

We made reservations for five (the four of us plus Michaela) for a Friday night in May 2004 at 7:30pm. It was a good thing we did. While the restaurant was nowhere near full, most of its tables are for four. As they are separated from each other by woven screens, it would be hard to put two together and fit five or more.

The little restaurant is very nice. The walls are all covered by woven plants, and a large map of Indonesia adorns one wall. Textiles, statues and other Indonesian art decorate the rest of the place. In all, it's a pleasant place.

The menu offers a number of vegetarian and meat choices that fall into three or four categories: fried rice, noodles, mild curries and soy-based curries (most around $15, including salad, soup and steamed rice). You can also order a "Rice Table" that, if ordered for at least 2, has a sample of five different entrees as well as an appetizer ($19 pp). A "Rice Table Special" ($22 pp) adds two additional vegetarian entrees. We decided to order 3 "Rice Tables" and one additional entree, chicken barbecued Indonesian style.

All the food was great. It didn't taste like any Indonesian food I've ever had, but that was probably as all the dishes were so mild that you could actually taste them (don't get me wrong, I love Indonesian food, it's just that it's often too hot for me). They were served with a sambar on the side for those who wanted to add spice to them, however. I particularly liked the BBQ chicken dish I ordered; it had a soy-sauce based BBQ sauce which was intense without being spicy. Mike liked it so much that he ate the rest of the sauce over rice. A pork kebab had a similar sauce and was just as good.

The beef curry was also delicious; the tender beef was well-complemented by the slightly sweet coconut-milk based sauce. We also loved a fried appetizer of something I don't recall with a peanut sauce. It was yummy. Mike was less enthusiastic about the crispy noodles, though I liked them well enough. The saffron rice, on the other hand, was rather tasteless.

Our only real complaint about the meal was that the servings were too small. At the end of the meal we were all still a little bit hungry - and we had consumed every last grain of rice available. For $19 each, we expected more food.

Service was quite good. Our table was prepared with a secured-booster chair for Michaela, and water and food came at appropriate intervals. The restaurant is child friendly in that it has booster seats and welcomes toddlers (we asked when we made our reservation), but this is not the most appropriate place to take a very active toddler. It's very small, so there isn't any room for a toddler to walk around without getting in somebody's way and it's quiet enough that a toddler using her "outside" voice would be disturbing. Michaela behaved quite well that evening, but it was a challenge at times to keep her quiet enough.

The Rice Table
1617 4th St
San Rafael, CA