One for the Books: a tablehopper Sri Lankan Feast at 1601 Bar & Kitchen

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The reception featured Chesapeake Bay soft-shell crab and kottu roti to go with our Scharffenberger bubbles. All photos: © tablehopper.com.

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The egg hopper with Jidori egg and sambols.

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Exquisite bites of the house-smoked salmon with burnt onion crème fraîche and turmeric gel.

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A hopper favorite: open-faced cold chicken curry sandwich on Pinkie’s baguette.

Last night was the latest tablehopper supper, a Sri Lankan feast at ~1601 BAR & KITCHEN~. I have been a fan of this underrated and soulful restaurant since it first opened, but was so captivated by chef Brian Fernando’s newly launched tasting menu a couple of months ago that I was inspired to host a tablehopper dinner, featuring some of my favorite dishes (you can and should experience the full tasting menu, for $85).

Maisons Marques & Domaines provided our wines for the evening, and we kicked off the reception with two sparkling wines from Scharffenberger Cellars, their Non Vintage Brut Excellence and Brut Rosé Excellence from Mendocino County (which I am going to be moving into heavy rotation for upcoming holiday parties). The kitchen sent out their village salad consommé (an elixir if there ever was one), their silky Hokkaido scallop ceviche (the coconut and lime pickle in this make it a phenomenal bite), mulligatawny soup, soft-shell crab, and what they call the fish cutlet, similar to a small fried ball of brandade. Quite the opening salvo!

We then made our way into the private dining room for our family-style feast. Of course we had to have the egg hopper (with Jidori egg and the flavorful sambols), plus chef Fernando’s trademark kale salad (the black garlic-citrus vinaigrette, toasted coconut, and Parmesan make it an umami blast), and his house-smoked salmon with turmeric gel is the best it has ever been. The Domaines Schlumberger 2013 pinot blanc, Les Princes Abbés (Alsace) was an agile pairing for the three courses—I especially liked the faintest hint of smoke, which tied in with the black garlic, the darker edges of the hopper, and the burnt onion with the salmon.

The next wave of dishes included my current obsession: the open-faced cold chicken curry sandwich on Pinkie’s baguette, plus the local halal goat stew with beets, chèvre mousse, and red basmati, and a dish I hadn’t had before, their fried Yukon gold potatoes with chile-fenugreek vinegar (we were all scooping them up with gusto). The kitchen spoiled us further and sent out the lamb and pork meatballs with Sri Lankan cinnamon, cilantro-almond relish, and Straus yogurt. It was quite an abundant table.

We left the wine pairing up to the diner’s preference: Carpe Diem 2012 pinot noir, Anderson Valley, or the 2012 cabernet sauvignon, Napa Valley. I opted for the pinot, which had enough earthiness and dark cherry to pair well with the goat stew, and the acidity helped keep this course from ever feeling heavy.

The finale was the bittersweet Valrhona chocolate custard with toasted curry and coconut lace cookie, paired with Ramos Pinto Cellars Non Vintage Quinta de Ervamoira 10-Year Tawny Porto—I was so pleased we could introduce the room to this historic house, founded in 1880, which has four estates (quintas) in the Douro. We had a lively Q&A with chef Fernando, who came out to tell us more about his background, technique, and intricate dishes.

On a personal note, I was so touched with the warmth and kindness of this particular group, what a special gathering. Thank you to everyone who attended, and especially to chef Brian Fernando and GM Yuliya Thompson and the entire 1601 team! Big round of applause and gratitude to Maisons Marques & Domaines, whose portfolio made this event extra-memorable and elegant. Thanks everyone! See you at 1601 again soon.

(Here’s a little Facebook photo album with pics I took throughout the evening—it was difficult to host while getting pictures of everything we ate and drank, but here are some highlights!)