Celebrated chef Peter Hemsley opens Aphotic in the heart of downtown San Francisco on March 21. Coming from the Greek prefix ἀ- + φῶς, meaning “without light,” the name also refers to the depths of the sea where less than one percent of sunlight penetrates. Aphotic sheds light on the dark by seeking out thoughtful alternatives to conventional resources, bringing often-overlooked and underutilized fish and sustainable sourcing practices to the forefront of fine dining, as well as a curated selection of luxury seafoods.
Originally from the Midwest, chef Hemsley adopted the Bay Area as his home after cooking in both New York and Paris fine dining restaurants. In the late 2000s, chef Hemsley cut his teeth in fish butchery in the kitchens of Michael Mina and Quince before opening his first solo venture, Palette, in 2019. More recently, chef Hemsley has adopted the ethos of traceable seafood, diving headfirst into better understanding how to operate a fine-dining seafood restaurant while following best practices.
SEAFOOD & SEASONALITY AT THE FOREFRONT
Unlike traditional fine dining seafood restaurants, Aphotic will source directly from aquaculture practitioners, traditional fishermen and women and boutique artisans whenever possible. After experiencing frustrations with product sourcing, poor diversity, and traceability issues in the past, chef Hemsley decided to seek out direct relationships with purveyors, gaining insight to the daily challenges they face, as well as the seasonality of fishing and alternative resource approaches. While chef Hemsley’s process requires the utmost effort, he hoped to improve the dialogue around seafood sourcing, both for restaurants and the consumer.
Aphotic’s opening menu is heavily influenced by Japanese cuisine as well as seasonal produce from the Bay Area. A crudo with grapefruit, wasabi and garum features rockfish from Bodega Bay, Calif., caught by artisanal fisherman Seth Caillat, who practices a traditional Japanese fishing method called Ikejime. For a prawn risotto with uni and crab head foam, prawns are sourced from TransparentSEA Farm in Downey, Calif. The menu will evolve according to seasonality, while incorporating a range of techniques and global influences.
BEVERAGE BOUNTY: FROM HOUSEMADE DISTILLATES TO WORLD-RENOWNED WINES
Accompanying Chef Hemsley’s fish-forward menu is the beverage program led by bar director Trevin Hutchins. The cocktail program is built on three core pillars: house-distilled botanical spirits, foraged ingredients from the Western Seaboard, and coastal-crafted spirits from shores far and wide. Displayed behind the bar, Aphotic’s in-house distillation program features craft spirits derived from locally foraged, native ingredients such as eucalyptus, bay, juniper and lavender; each cocktail is designed to complement the oceanic cuisine flavors.
Spanning nearly 7,000 bottles and almost 100 vintages, Aphotic’s wine list focuses heavily on the coastal wines of the world with a deep collection of Champagne, as well as iconic California vintages from the 1970s and on.
BRINGING THE DEPTHS OF THE SEA TO LIGHT THROUGH DESIGN
Aphotic’s namesake is seamlessly reflected through a dark and moody interior. Designed by chef Hemsley and designer David Middleton, black walls and dim lighting are accented by custom walnut woodwork and cabinetry from Arnold & Egan, most notably behind the bar. To amplify the brooding ambiance, the main dining room is completed with Japanese Shou Sugi Ban detailing from East Bay designer John Liston and bronze touches from David Whippen. Glass light fixtures from Rocket Glassworks add flair to the bar, bathroom, and the private dining room, while approximately 2,500 pounds of driftwood line the bathroom walls. Originally a 1940s warehouse featuring a barrel roof of exposed Douglas Fir, Aphotic’s polished, intimate interior is lightened by the wood fired oven and hearth, a focal point to the open kitchen and backdrop of the restaurant.