The name alone doesn’t tell you much, but when I read that it offers a modern take on Sri Lankan cuisine, I was intrigued. For all the variety of restaurants on offer in San Francisco, there aren’t many that do ethnic flavors well. Of course, there are some notable exceptions, like Namu Gaji.
On Christmas Eve we headed off to 1601 to sample delights from another continent, after first being wowed by the SF Ballet’s rendition of The Nutcracker.
South of Market on Howard and 12th, the interior of the restaurant is quite stark in its appearance, perhaps made more so by the chilliness of the season, the apparent lack of heating inside, and desire for good cheer. No matter, the warmth of the welcome more than made up for it.
The menu is full of exotic-sounding delights, which are hard to decipher. Take the “traditional egg hopper, Jidori egg, sambols” ($9). We took our waiter’s recommendation to order this—dining has a lot to do with faith—and his description didn’t enlighten us at all. When it arrived it was a lacy thin crepe (made from fermented coconut flour, I believe), shaped like a bowl to cradle a fried egg. On the side, caramelized onions, spices and coconut to adorn said egg. Quite delicious.
The house-smoked salmon with burnt onion, creme fraiche and tumeric gel ($15), also caught our eye. Nothing says Christmas to me like smoked salmon – it was a treat we always had on our festive table when I was growing up. This did not disappoint. Rich. Oily. Tender. None of that almost dehydrated stuff that so often passes for smoked salmon.
The star however was the black curry crusted Bavette steak, with tamarind-date chutney ($25). Cooked to perfection, i.e. blue, the flavors were intense, yet round and subtle. Overall, deeply sophisticated and accompanied perfectly by cauliflower with lime pickle emulsion and spiced carrot puree ($12).
Although we were stuffed, the chocolate custard, with toasted curry and coconut lace cookie ($8) sounded too good to pass up. Although it was perhaps our least favorite thing on the menu. The curry flavor rather dominated, and the custard was so thick you could stand a spoon in it. But I’m glad we tried it at least.
All in all, 1601 Bar and Kitchen is most definitely worth a visit, although go with a big group so you can taste as much of the menu as possible.
Go here for directions and reservations.