1618 Asian Fusion Brings Southeast Asian Cuisines Together in Stylish Space
The husband-and-wife team of Kevin Le and Lynn Tran were inspired by their global travels to Vietnam, China, Singapore and more
I love it when I find surprising things in unexpected places — like the 1618 Asian Fusion restaurant. From the street, you’d never guess that this stylish restaurant was concealed within a generic apartment complex. But once you find it, it dazzles you with its chic ambiance, creative cuisine and buoyant energy.
Located on the ground floor of the AMLI South Shore just off teeming Riverside Drive, 1618 Asian Fusion is an oasis among the east side congestion and chaos. A genial host welcomes you into a lovely reception area, complete with ambient fireplace. An illuminated bar runs along the front wall and spills into a sprawling 6,000-square-foot dining room. Although capacious, it feels soothing and welcoming with its minimalist design, creating a Zen-like ambiance. Sculpted wood adornments and live greenery reflect a sense of calm and simple elegance. Even the chopsticks and serving pieces are given special flourish.
It’s an environment that’s fashionable enough for a date night, yet approachable enough for families or groups. For seating, take your pick of booths, tables or benches — or pull up a stool at the inviting bar or grab a spot on the shaded sidewalk. Serving brunch, lunch and dinner, 1618 really kicks into gear on the weekends when it features live music on its intimate stage.
1618 is named after both its address on East Riverside Drive and also the Golden Ratio, a historical number representing balance, harmony, new beginnings and growth. Opened three years ago by husband-and-wife team Kevin Le and Lynn Tran, the restaurant offers a wide-ranging menu of Asian foods inspired by their global travels to Vietnam, Thailand, China, Singapore and Southeast Asia. The flavors are bright, bold and diverse.
For starters, don’t miss the fried calamari. I know it’s ubiquitous on Asian menus, but trust me, this one’s special: light and crispy and so perfectly seasoned that you don’t need sauce. But the sauce is awesome: a simple citrusy mix of lemon juice and black pepper that takes this dish from great to fabulous. For something you don’t find on every menu, try the grilled lemongrass duck skewers basted in plum sauce or the Banh Trang Da Nang, a spicy Vietnamese-style ‘pizza’ made on grilled rice paper and topped with pork lardons, scallions, spicy mayo and an egg.
Dim Sum is served daily, with an expanded menu offered on weekends. Daily classics include beef pot stickers, shrimp balls, chicken dumplings and the coveted Xiao Long Bao pork soup dumplings. On weekends, there are additional items like shrimp har kaw and pan fried pork bao.
For noodle soup lovers, there’s Vietnamese Pho with beef broth and Hu Tieu with pork broth. Pho toppings include filet mignon, brisket, beef ribs and oxtail. Hu Tieu, made with pork-bone broth slow roasted for six hours, can be topped with pork belly, duck or shrimp.
Entrees run the gamut from classic stir-fry to whole Peking duck. There’s Orange Chicken, Pad Thai, numerous curries, Saigon rack of lamb and a spicy Thai pineapple fried rice topped with roast duck and shrimp presented in a hollowed-out pineapple. Seafood entrees really shine with dishes like the Imperial Crispy Redfish, a house specialty, crispy whole red snapper in Thai tamarind sauce, and salmon marinated in sake panang sauce and steamed in banana leaf.
Dessert is a must-have at 1618. There are several options, but go for the Flaming Cheesecake. In dramatic fashion, it’s flambéed tableside with liquor heated in a fancy goblet, then sprinkled with cinnamon that sparkles like fireworks. Served with a scoop of tropical ice cream, it’s a delicious showstopper.
1618 takes its drinks seriously, and you should, too. These works of art taste as good as they look, with many featuring Asian and tropical ingredients. Vintage bar carts circle the dining room, mixing up tableside cocktails like a Smoky Old Fashioned. Another signature drink is the Smoke Bubble shot, a mind-blowing cocktail that is easier explained on Instagram posts than in this column. It’s a marvel.
Another marvel is the service at 1618. In this new post-COVID era when good customer service is a rarity, 1618 defies the odds and makes every customer feel special. From the seating host to the mixologist to the dining room staff, everyone pitches in to ensure a pleasant experience, attending to small but meaningful details like removing chopstick wrappers and refilling water glasses.
1618 Asian Fusion is an ambitious restaurant that delivers on its promise of wonderful food, service and ambiance. Its sleek, loungey vibe makes it a dining pleasure, and obviously others agree: it’s always busy, and a second restaurant is in the works. And for a terrific restaurant like 1618, that isn’t surprising at all.