Fine dining restaurants often send diners home with a “little something” for the next morning, often a baked good or even in some cases, housemade salt or teas — a little taste memory of the restaurant. Merchant Roots, which opens tomorrow, aims to up that game by operating as both a fine dining restaurant and artisanal market, embedding its handcrafted goods in cases and along the walls.
The dual-purpose concept has taken up residence just a few blocks from The Progress/State Bird Provisions, Fat Angel, and the newly opened Avery, on what has become a hot stretch of Fillmore Street. From chef Ryan Shelton (Baumé, Reverb) and partner Madison Michael, the idea is to create a place to get the best of both worlds: fancy doughnuts in the morning, and an experimental and intimate tasting menu at night.
How does it work? Here’s the breakdown between the two components of Merchant Roots:
Merchant Roots makes everything that is sold in the market, from fresh pasta to jams and charcuterie. The “larder” stocks jams like yuzu marmalade, tea from Leaves and Flowers, and even has an entire section of seasoned salts made in the restaurant.
Eric Miller (Mission Cheese) is curating the charcuterie and cheese program, which includes classic European styles (procured both locally and from Europe); the in-house charcuterie is still curing, but stay tuned for Shelton’s versions.
Pasta is another big focus for Shelton, with handmade fresh and dried options both available. Flavor combinations range from dried acorn orecchiette and kale spaghetti chitarra to fresh beet campanelle.
There’s also prepared food for eating in or taking home (or to the park for a picnic). Sandwiches and salads like chilled gnocchietti with pesto, red peppers, and red onion will be the main options, plus pastries like muffins and cannoli. Shelton’s past stint as the pastry chef of Michelin-starred Chez TJ informs the supremely elevated versions of items like scones, old-fashioned doughnuts, and beautiful chocolate chip cookies with sea salt.(Check out the full menu below.)
Michael, a certified sommelier, has selected over 80 bottles for sale in the shop, including less commonly found varietals, and natural wines (like Berkeley’s Broc Cellars). Bottles are available for purchase, while by-the-glass selections will change daily for those eating in.
The Table at Merchant Roots
The fine dining portion is more like a rarefied dinner party: Three nights per week, Shelton will prepare a themed tasting menu that changes every four to six weeks. Make sure to book those reservations in advance, however, as the table only seats eight.
At opening, the nine-course menu’s theme is “elements,” with dishes like a yuzu sorbet “moon rock” and a cotton candy “meteor,” priced at $110 (with an option $70 wine pairing).
The table itself is located in the rear of the restaurant, alongside three smaller tables along the wall for daytime dining. It was custom-made, of course, of live-edge Monkey Pod wood by Ian Avidan (Berkeley’s Z&E Slabs).
The 1,000-square-foot space is bright and modern, with some old-timey touches, including the logo’s vintage design (from artist Ken Davis). The most distinctive objet d’art in the room is a massive, custom wool fiber art piece from Meghan Bogden Shimek, which will be extremely hard to resist touching, due to its extremely high fluff quotient.
Starting tomorrow, May 5, the “craft grocer” portion will be open Tuesday-Saturday from 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.; The Table is not yet open, but will open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays.