First Look: 1601 Bar and Kitchen, San Francisco

[Photographs: Colin Price]

Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.

Brian Fernando mastered French fine dining across 10 years at Le Papillon; he was chef de cuisine his last four years there. Now, he's combining modern French technique with flavor memories of his childhood and recipes from his Sri-Lankan father as chef/owner of Soma's 1601 Bar & Kitchen.

The concept at 1601 replaces the traditional buffet-style spread of curries, steamed rice, sambols, and vegetables with small plates—or, Short Eats—which are made to share and lets dinner roll along the way Fernando thinks it should naturally be coursed. "I wanted to break down the meal, for it to play out from starting light, like pickled vegetables, to finishing with the bavette steak. From pickling to hopper to protein."

The delicate egg hopper, easy to fall for and eaten like a taco, is served with beer on the streets of Sri Lanka and will stay put on the menu, as will Mulligatawny soup, a childhood favorite of Fernando's, and the pickled vegetable plate. Other dishes will rotate; for instance, the chicken curry most diners would expect to see will eventually be swapped in for the roasted quail.

Like the South Indian cuisine it's often mistaken for, Sri Lankan food has some serious spice. Fernando has taken the heat down a notch for two reasons. One, he's been eating curry since he was a kid, so he can't trust his own barometer. Two, he's cautious of using spice as a novelty. He'd rather guests taste the balance of acid and sugar and the genuine flavors of the dishes by not overpowering them with spice.

With a bid in the works for a full bar, 1601 will start with a selection of beer and 85 new and old world wines (with two reds and two whites on tap) created with help from Le Papillon's wine director, Cameron Mashayekh.

Take a peek at what to expect in dishes and desserts from 1601 Bar and Kitchen in the slideshow above.

At time of publication, 1601 anticipated an opening on Monday, April 1.

1601 Bar & Kitchen

1601 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA 94103 (map) 415-552-1601