the bar"We change this bar to a marble white one in winter, which is incredibly heavy. This copper one is my favourite as it reminds me of when we opened. Also, autumn is missed the most in San Francisco - the leaves don't change - so I like recreating it."The building and brickwork"This place was built in 1906 following a major earthquake in San Francisco. It's one of the few buildings made out of ballast brick - it's very misshapen and was used to balance ships laden with gold leaving the port. People come in and say, 'I love what you did with the brick!' - but we didn't touch it."
Whiskey lounge"Rare bourbon and whiskey is a speciality of ours. You can come here for a change of pace and an after-dinner drink."Antique sewing machine"This is our host stand table. One of the previous uses of our building was a costume shop and it was used by an old San Francisco ballet group. My wife is a ballerina so I thought it was a nice connection."
Autumn plaque"As you enter the restaurant, in the walkway we like to have a stainless-steel plaque with the new season on it."Manzanita trees"These are local to California, and we introduce them in fall. They're about 12ft tall and we attach about a thousand natural oak tree leaves to it. West coast tree, east coast leaves."
- Photography by Peden + Munk
- Words by Mr Tom M Ford, Features Writer, MR PORTER
"Fall is probably my favourite period here, with the reds, oranges and yellows. And when winter comes around, there's a palpable formality I love." For someone who lives in an unchanging West Coast climate, Mr Matt Semmelhack's enthusiasm for the seasons might seem rather odd. Not, however, when you consider he's the brains behind AQ - the acclaimed restaurant on San Francisco's Mission Street that he set up in 2011 with executive chef Mr Mark Liberman (previously of Michelin-starred La Folie, also in San Francisco). Blending an easy-going Californian style with intricate fine dining, Mr Semmelhack's eatery offers not just a menu that is seasonal, but an entire décor, too.
Seeking to "strike while the iron is hot", the restaurateur has two more spaces on the way this month - both part of the Mercer Restaurant Group he founded in 2008, with no previous restaurant experience. This quest to keep dining fresh and fun will include TBD, a venture offering food prepared on a wood fire that will open next door to AQ, while Mélange Market will launch nearby in the ODC theatre. Next year, Mr Semmelhack will unveil the first restaurant in the Market Square development: aka Twitter HQ. Keeping things within the decidedly un-gentrified area of Mid-Market, Mr Semmelhack is conquering a corner of San Francisco one might not have associated with quality food.
As they put the finishing touches to their autumn set-up in AQ, we booked ourselves in to take a tour of the space and discuss Mr Semmelhack's upcoming projects. Click through the slides, above, to explore some of the unique features of the restaurant.
People in San Francisco and California take what they put into their bodies very personally and they let you know about it