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Sri Lanka comes to San Francisco—and We Have the Menu

Carolyn Alburger | January 30, 2013 | Story Restaurants

The idea of a chef reinterpreting the flavors of his or her youth isn’t new. Mourad Lahlou famously popularized the food of his native Morocco when he opened Aziza over ten years ago. Hoss Zare does it with Iranian flavors at Zare at Fly Trap. Nick Balla weaves his Hungarian ties into many dishes at Bar Tartine. And Preety Mistry is zeroing in on a March opening for her India-inspired Juhu Beach Club in Oakland.

You know what is new to San Francisco? A Sri Lankan chef, cooking from the heart. What you see above is a hopper, a Sri Lankan crepe made with coconut milk and fermented rice flour, which is cooked in a special mini wok. This hopper will be available at 1601 Bar + Kitchen (with a Jidori egg, of course), when it opens near Una Pizza Napoletana in a little over a month.

The father of chef-owner, Brian Fernando is Sri Lankan, and the younger Fernando has dreamt about bringing these flavors to San Francisco for quite some time—all the while working his way through the ranks at Silicon Valley’s hoity toity Le Papillon, one of those spots whose savory canapé plate speaks directly to the Michelin Guide reviewers (see?). The menu at 1601 will blend Fernando’s fine dining background with his the classic Sri Lankan flavors he knows inside and out.

You can see a preliminary menu for 1601 here. At a preview tasting yesterday, I had the chance to try the house-smoked salmon with coconut-soaked forbidden rice, a hopper with egg and two colorful sambols (onion and coconut), and a coriander-seared bavette steak. It all showed promise, but the one lingering in my head is Fernando’s mulligatawny soup, rich with coconut milk, curry, a kick of heat, and—its mark of refinement—a juicy roulade of chicken confit, studded with pickled mustard seed.

Brent Kanbayashi is designing the 1601 space with steel and salvaged barn doors, creating the very San Francisco industrial, reclaimed look you see in the rendering above, but there’s talk of some exotic décor punches too. Fingers crossed that the Sri Lankan accents are as identifiable in the décor and other menu items, as they were in that mulligatawny soup. When it comes to chefs cooking from their soul, I want more.

1601 Howard Street, San Francisco.

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