Eating: 1601 Bar & Kitchen
CRAVE: Mulligatawny soup, kale salad, and halal goat stew!
1601 Bar & Kitchen is an amazing Sri Lankan restaurant, off the beaten path and nestled on the edge of SOMA, a true hidden gem. My first thought when I heard about 1601 Bar & Kitchen was — “Is there any other Sri Lankan restaurants in San Francisco?”
The answer? No. Not really.
San Francisco is a melting pot of cuisines, and many variations on Indian, but that is the closest you’ll get!
The food is inspired by Chef Brian Fernando’s home country and heritage, so you know it is authentic. The restaurant itself is gorgeous as well — modern, yet warm, spacious and inviting.
Unlike other restaurants crammed to the brim with tables, you’ll have space to chat and enjoy your meal with your dinner companions.
If you come and order off the regular menu, their items are meant to be shared tapas style. Expect Sri Lankan twists on favorites like kale salad, roasted cauliflower, lamb and pork meatballs, and steak.
However, if you want to do 1601 Bar & Kitchen right, the best option is to enjoy their tasting menu.
At 10+ courses for under a hundred dollars per person, this meal is a steal and, with its Sri Lankan cuisine, is something completely unique from other tasting menus.
When I had the pleasure of enjoying the menu the first course was a “watalappam.” Traditionally a custard, this was a frozen puree of uni and pureed sturgeon, topped with Tsar Nicoulai Reserve caviar. Salty!
The second course was a “village salad” consommé, which translates to a blend of tomatoes, onion, and Serrano pepper, strained through a coffee filter to make a light, refreshing drink. Some of my dinner companions remarked the flavors reminded them of gazpacho.
The next bite was a spoonful of Hokkaido scallop ceviche with a coconut-lime pickle.
Lime pickles are a common ingredient in Sri Lankan cuisine, taking 3 months to pickle.
Next, one of my favorites was the fish cutlet. Perfectly fried little balls of goodness.
Another favorite, the Mulligatawny soup made Masoor dhal (pink lentils) and ginger. This dish had a distinct taste that reminded me of curries and Indian food, warm and comforting.
The next dish was a house-smoked salmon atop some smears of burnt onion crème fraiche and dollops of turmeric gel. Topped with cubes of juicy compressed apples that gave a nice contrast to the texture of the salmon.
Kale salad is all the rage, and this one was no exception. The raw kale salad was topped with toasted coconut meat and Parmesan cheese, tossed in a black garlic-citrus vinaigrette that blew me away. Not your average kale salad!
One of the most unique (and gorgeous) items was the traditional egg hopper!
The egg hopper is made by swirling around batter in a special spherical pan, then cracking in a Jidori egg, cooking it covered stove top and then in a special oven. These special pans are cheap and in abundance in Sri Lanka, but unavailable in the US. The chef stocks up when he makes trips back home!
The egg hopper is traditionally served as lunch or also eaten as a 4am street food. Our dish was served with “sambols” of coconut meat and caramelized onions, which we mixed into the egg yolk center.
After mixing in the sambols, we folded the egg hopper in half and ate it taco-style.
Time for some carbs! The next course was an open-faced, cold, curry chicken salad sandwich. This had some bold flavors and was nice as a cold sandwich. The chef also uses baguettes from Pinkie’s Bakery, a shop right around the corner in SOMA.
Next, the softshell crab kottu roti. This was bits of tempura crab fried and placed a bit of spiced veggies and roti.
A classic no matter what culture, these fried Yukon gold potatoes were delicious. Hiding underneath was a sweet and savory glaze of chile-fenugreek vinegar.
The main dish of the night was the halal goat stew and red Basmati rice. Served family style, we each ladled scoops of tender goat meat and broth on top of a scoop of beetroot and chévre mousse. The flavors blended together perfectly.
Another dish also pictured above was the crispy okra (right), laid over a creamy coconut dip and cashews.
The finale for the evening was the Ceylon tea semifreddo topped with almond streusel. I hadn’t had a semifreddo before that I’d particularly enjoyed — this version completely changed my opinion of them! Semi-frozen, the main ingredients are eggs, sugar and cream. This version had a sort of crème brûlée top, and the streusel crumbles added a nice crunch. Scraped the bowl on this one!
Sri Lankan cuisine is a great array of strong flavors, curries and spices, but still unlike other ethnic foods you may have tried. If you want a unique spin on a tasting menu and a relaxed, yet upscale atmosphere, make 1601 Bar & Kitchen your next stop!
If you want to learn more about 1601 Bar & Kitchen visit their website here.