1601 Bar & Kitchen Incorporates Sri Lankan Flavors

Sometimes pretty is and pretty does are two different things.

At 1601 Bar & Kitchen, which opened in SoMa last month, there's an inverse relationship between a plate's visual appeal and its flavor.

Chef-owner Brian Fernando has cooked at Chez Panisse and Le Papillon in San Jose, so the menu is rife with sweet May peas and heirloom potatoes. But Sri Lankan spicing is at the core of the restaurant's best–and least decorative–dishes.

A simple salad of kale ($9) with young coconut strips, the umami in its black garlic-Parmesan dressing thrumming on sub-bass levels, is twice as enjoyable as an elaborate lobster ceviche ($12).

Taste-wise, a photogenic pork belly ($15) pales in comparison to an earthy-looking sturgeon fillet ($17) set on red basmati rice, a tart and bewitching Sri Lankan black curry spooned over the dish.

The exception to this rule: Fernando's hopper ($9), a rice-flour crêpe with a soft-cooked egg in its center. When you scatter coconut-chile sambol and onion seeni over its surface and slice in, you encounter lacy-crisp edges, a sweet and oozy center, and syncopated layers of spice.

It's as good as it looks.