Monday through Friday, Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis is a blur of high heels and power suits—the frenzied hive of the nine to five. The restaurants along this manic circuit often have no choice but to assume the tone of their harried clientele.
Though that atmosphere may suit many a Bluetooth addict, if you truly want to unplug and unwind, a veritable oasis waits just one block east at Hell’s Kitchen’s former digs: Subo. Since opening last December, it has brought the essence of the Philippines to Minneapolis by way of cocktails; traditional and fusion cuisine; and an airy, calming interior that encourages guests to linger.
Before dinner, take the time to sit at the bar, and explore the cocktail menu with an open mind. The creative, evolving, and often meticulous drink list is designed to introduce traditional Filipino ingredients and flavors to Subo’s Minnesotan guests. While the sake, wine, and beer list is impressive, I appreciated the spirit of the cocktail introduction to cuisine, and so began there. I tried the refreshing Hypnotiq Caipirinha ($8), made with Cachaca Pitu (Brazil’s national drink), Hypnotiq liqueur, kalamansi juice (a Southeast Asian citrus fruit), parsley, and lime. The sly concoction rendered the sugar cane rum base almost undetectable, so a word to the wise: Pace yourself. The bar staff also is more than happy to make you something off-menu, and if you encourage them to play, they will reward you with brilliance. We were treated to what only can be described as a summery version of eggnog, and it was exquisite.
Introducing Filipino food to the Twin Cities presents a unique challenge. Because of the unique history of the Philippines, its traditional cuisine heavily is influenced by Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Malaysian, and American flavors. The result can seem a little all over the map, especially when you add classic French cooking techniques.
Some Filipinos who enjoy their culture’s emphasis on food quantity may disagree with me, but I think that Subo’s small-plate concept provides the perfect and only opportunity for Minnesotans to explore the many flavors the Philippines has to offer. Subo has caught some plate-size flak from the Filipino community, and I personally feel the criticism is undeserved. The price ratio is very reasonable, and a guest certainly is capable of ordering as much food as he or she wishes. Moreover, with the quality of food coming from Chef Geoff King’s kitchen, I wonder if the “quantity” criticism isn’t a compliment in disguise.
For a larger plate experience, order Adobo Chicken Wings ($8.50) with its perfect companion, Coconut Rice ($4). The traditionally prepared chicken wings are wickedly good, and falling off the bone.
However, if you are in a meandering kind of mood, begin with Embutido ($9), a ground-pork, quail-egg, and chicken-sausage meatloaf served cold with homemade banana catsup. Take a bite of the meatloaf before dipping it too liberally into the catsup—the condiment is delicious, but packs more flavor than tomato catsup.
Follow with Steamed Edamame ($6). King uses black Hawaiian sea salt and a dash of basil lime oil to jazz up his delightfully firm soybeans. The result is very different than what you may have snacked on before your sushi.
At this point, my dining partner and I had moved from cocktails to wine. Our server’s picks of the dry La Sauveuse rosé ($5.5/$8/$5/$25) and the acidic Nessa Albarino ($6.50/$10.50/$27) paired so well with everything we tried that if either tickled your fancy, I’d encourage you to spring for a bottle.
Ukoy ($9.5)—essentially, a lightly breaded shrimp and vegetable fritter with traditional dipping sauce—was next, along with Garlic Fried Rice ($4) and absolutely heavenly Steamed Mushroom Rolls ($8). I am not a mushroom lover, but I would return for these moist, sake-sweetened, garlicky wonders.
If you consistently are leaning toward the Asian influences, Lumpia Shanghai ($7.50) is a lovely play on an egg roll, wrapping ground pork tightly into a long, slender wrapper; giving it a fry; and serving it with mild mandarin orange chili sauce. However, I also marveled over the tender Pan Seared Scallops ($9), which showcase the Philippines’s Spanish influence with a dab of gazpacho relish.
I must admit, I am beginning to wonder why Filipino food has not made a bigger splash here in Minnesota—we love fusion cuisine, rich sauces, and comfort foods, and we aren’t so big on spice. Surprise—neither is most Filipino food! Given our long and brutal winters, I can’t be the only one craving a breath of fresh, South Seas air now and then.
But if you’re still on the fence about it, the Subo dessert list includes New Orleans-worthy Beignets ($7) with kalamansi curd spiced sugar, and a warm Kalamansi Meringue Tart ($7).
I rest my case.
89 S. 10th St., Mpls.