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1601 Bar + Kitchen's New Menu Amps Up Sri Lankan Flavor

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Chef-owner Brian Fernando says this was his vision all along.

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Jeremi Rebecca

Two-year-old SoMa Californian restaurant 1601 Bar & Kitchen debuts a new menu today featuring more Sri Lankan influenced dishes that are in line with chef-owner Brian Fernando’s original vision. Fernando says that the logistics of opening the restaurant led him to rely on a team of chefs in the beginning.

Brian Fernando

Unfortunately, that resulted in a menu that he calls "scattered" and didn’t reflect the Sri Lankan influences on which he based the concept. Now that Fernando is at the helm, he says, "The menu has evolved and is 100 percent my voice. It’s personal; all of the influences in the dishes are from the island of Sri Lanka, where my father is from."

Still, Fernando is quick to point out that 1601 Bar & Kitchen is not a traditional Sri Lankan restaurant. He says, "It’s rooted in Sri Lankan flavor profiles, but it’s my own twist. I’m using modern techniques, the best ingredients, and everything on the menu is something you won’t be able to find at any other restaurant in San Francisco."

He says not to come expecting a heaping plate of food that’s going to make you feel full. Rather, his dishes are sophisticated, beautifully plated, and unexpected. That’s part of why the restaurant has such a simple name. "We didn’t want preconceived notions about what the food may be," he says.

The new menu will feature a variety of changing dishes using local, sustainable, and organic ingredients, most of which are meant to be shared. One of Fernando’s current favorites is the kottu roti made with Chespeake Bay soft-shell crab. "Roti is a traditional Sri Lankan street food, but we’re doing it with soft-shell crabs to make it more complex."

Other menu highlights include a black curry crusted bavette state with rapini, tamarind-date chutney, and bacon and the lobster fricassee with barley, English peas, spring onion achcharu, and coconut oil. There is also a tasting menu (10-12 courses) for $85 with an optional $58 beverage pairing.

1601 Bar & Kitchen’s new menu officially launches today, June 5. Regular hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 6-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday from 6-11 p.m.

1601 Bar & Kitchen Menu

— Daisy Barringer