4/12/2013 06:54:00 PM

What to Eat at 1601 Kitchen, the New Sri Lankan-Inspired SoMa Night Spot

Bet you never seen elegant Sri Lankan food like this
Never tried Sri Lankan food before? Don't worry neither had we but there's plenty to love at 1601 Bar & Kitchen, the city's first Sri-Lankan-inspired restaurant, now open in SoMa. The ambitious new venture, decked out with brightly hued batiks and dark wood tables, is the culmination of a dream of chef Brian Fernando, a Sacramento native with Sri Lankan heritage and cooking stints at tapas bars in Spain and Chez Panisse followed by eight years as chef de cuisine of the contemporary French restaurant Le Papillon in San Jose.

As you can see from the menu, Fernando presents a extensive slate of affordably priced seasonally driven small plates that draw on the Southeast Asian island's multi-cultural cuisine (it shares elements with neighboring India and its European colonizers) imbued with modern French techniques and plating styles (see the soup presentation above). In other words, this is not museum food. Hey, they even have a raw kale salad (so trendy!) with coconut meat, Parmesan and a black garlic-lime vinaigrette on the menu.

Want to know where to dive in? We recommend starting with the housemade Sri Lankan vegetable pickle spiced with black pepper and galangal, the reenvisioned Mulligatawny soup and roasted quail with chai spice.  From there, add a plate of braised sturgeon with black curry with crispy preserved maitake and red basmati rice (one of the many curries that will be in frequent rotation) and seared bavette steak with coriander, demi-glace and roasted cipollini onions. Whatever you do, you must order the egg hopper, a crispy bowl-shaped crepe made fermented rice flour and coconut milk that’s a popular Sri Lankan street food and likely to become the restaurant’s signature dish. The hopper is made to order in a mini-wok primarily designed for the hopper and Fernando tell us he plans to always offer some version of it. The opening menu features an egg hopper filled with a Jidori egg and served with a sampling of sambals. 

Good times to stop into 1601 is during happy hour and complement some of the small plates with a glass of bubbly or food-friendly wines. Alas, despite the name, the bar doesn’t have a liquor license.

1601 Kitchen and Bar: 1601 Howard St; 415-552-1601


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