As a recent San Francisco transplant, I’ve been on a mission to try every restaurant in the city and have had some amazing experiences along the way (one of my first “real” SF dining experiences was at Che Fico – that was fun). I recently was at Aprés by Cerf Club with my new friend, Lisa who casually asked what my favorite tasting menu in my former home of San Diego was. I quickly drew blank and realized I had never experienced a tasting menu down south because it isn’t a “thing” there. Maybe it’s the casual, surf-inspired mindset but then again, San Francisco is notoriously more casual when it comes to dining attire. Whatever the reason, my path had not yet crossed with one of a tasting menu. The following week, serendipity smiled on me and I found myself with seats at a chef’s table dining experience called Merchant Roots: a gourmet grocer by day, fine dining concept by night.
Photography by Kassie Borreson
Located in the Fillmore District, the grocery side of the business has been operating since last spring and the chef’s table was unveiled early this year. Led by Chef Ryan Shelton, it’s San Francisco’s most intimate dinner experience at just eight guests per seating. Each quarter, a new theme takes over the kitchen of Merchant Roots to design an out-of-this-world, nine-course menu. This first menu (of the year and all time) is dubbed Elements: “inspired by the celestial bodies and elements that make up our universe.” Also important to note, the chef’s table is situated next to a wall of wine, all of which are selected by wine director, Madison Michael. Fun fact: Madison and Chef Ryan not only conceptualized Merchant Roots together but are also engaged!
Photography by Chris Sumida for The Venue Report
As mentioned, the cozy 1,000 sqft space is a gourmet grocer by day (think pastries, fresh pasta, salads, sandwiches and wine) turned themed avant-garde dinner party by night. Upon entering the space, you are greeted with a wall of artisan goods ranging from coffee to baked treats to jars of various accoutrements. Herringbone wood walls and a copper range hood set the scene for the edible magic that will later be presented. There’s a massive, hand woven art piece taking up an entire wall of the space imagined by fiber artist Meghan Bogden Shimek, while the eight seat chef’s table is a custom-made live edge Monkey Pod wood table by woodworker Ian Avidan.
Here at The Venue Report, we’d be remiss to not check out the selfie potential of the bathroom and are happy to report that it makes the cut, and then some. Designed by Madison, it’s moody and dramatic – a welcome surprise from the otherwise airy main venue.
Photography by Kassie Borreson
The Dining Experience
In addition to creating San Francisco’s most intimate dining experience and along with it a communal and friendly atmosphere, Chef Ryan has designed the menu to be interactive, approachable and fun. The dining experience starts with a palette cleansing sherbet, or the Moon course – not a bad way to kick off the evening. From there, the table is guided through the elements represented in each course. From olive oil dust (yes, seriously) to glass-like cotton candy, every single dish was delicious and incredibly inventive.
Some of the more dramatic courses included Salt, Fire and Air, each of which were served on custom made vessels specific to the dish. The Salt course was served on a handmade ceramic plate by Berkeley’s Kiyomi Koide who designed the pieces to mimic the sea floor with a volcanic shape that allows the dashi bubbles to erupt from the center of the plate. The main star of the Fire course’s aged strip loin dish was the piece of gnarled, hand-charred wood it’s served on. Oh, and the entire bottle of red wine used to make the reduction for each plate is pretty cool too. Finally, the Air course is an edible science experiment consisting of branches, baklava nests and aromatic fog. If there was a course to take your breath away, this was it – the table was covered in a rose scented fog while we picked the nests out of the ‘trees.’
Photography by Amanda Lynn & Chris Sumida for The Venue Report
The wine. Madison selected such beautiful pairings for each of the dishes that really elevated each course’s experience. One of the subly beautiful touches was the stemware: each course was paired with a different wine meaning we saw a lot of stems. Each glass was so delicate and architectural – we later learned they were handblown Sophienwald glasses imported from Austria.
As this quarter comes to a close, stay tuned for the next iteration of Merchant Roots’ crazy cool nine-course menu. In need of a fun group or corporate outing idea? Book all eight seats (and don’t forget the wine pairing) for the dinner party of a lifetime.
Book your spot at the Chef's Table at Merchant Roots →