It has been a sleepy year for anything really new in Minnesota dining, but I think that may have changed with the opening of Subo, a new Filipino small-plates restaurant in the old Hell’s Kitchen space in downtown Minneapolis. To be perfectly frank, this restaurant opening caught me by surprise; I had heard about Subo a few times earlier this year, but since it was a new restaurant with all-new, non-Minnesotan players coming into an old building, I put it into my ‘believe it when I see it’ file, expecting it to be subject to licensing and construction delays—but it opened last week, so goes to show what lengthy experience as a restaurant reviewer sometimes produces: Complete surprise. Anyhoo, I caught up with Chef Guillen on the phone a few minutes ago, and here’s everything I know:
The chef is 36-year-old Neil Guillen, a Filipino-American who grew up in Michigan, went to our nation’s most prestigious cooking school (The Culinary Institute of America), and then joined fellow Michigander Bradley Ogden for a long stint at that famous chef’s San Diego restaurant, Arterra. On a mission to the James Beard House for Arterra, Guillen met an old friend who had a Thai-Filipino small-plates restaurant in New York City called the Kuma Inn, and so Guillen changed course and spent two years working there. At the Kuma Inn, he met a Minnesotan investor who convinced him that Minneapolis direly needed a Kuma Inn-like restaurant, and then sealed the deal by putting up money to make it so. And here we are!
Looking at Suba’s menu, I immediately thought of David Chang’s menus at the various Momofuku restaurants—deep fried pork belly, yum!—and I asked Guillen whether there was any influence. He told me that if I knew more about the world, I’d know that in fact, Momofuku and the Kuma Inn are peer restaurants and Momofuku maybe even owes a little more than is widely known to the Kuma Inn, so…. I have no idea. If you know anything about this, feel free to chime in below, in the comments.
Basically, Guillen told me there will be a slight similarity between Subo and Momofuku to the extent that both restaurants fuse French technique and fine American dining habits with another cuisine’s traditional flavors. Filipino food, he told me, is particularly notable for its play with salty and sweet combinations, and for its use of sour to amplify the impact of the rest of the flavor spectrum. To experience this for yourself, Guillen says the must-try dish is his chicken adobo wings, long-braised chicken wings cooked with vinegar and seared crisp before serving. Another must-try, says Guillen, is the Pancit Bihon (pahn-sit bee-hon), wok-fried rice noodles made with signature house-made sausage and vegetables. When I visit, I’m also going to be sure to try the Roasted Pork Candy because it sounds amazing, and also the grilled sardines because how long have we been waiting for grilled sardines around here? (I did notice that Guillen’s old restaurant, Arterra, had duck-fat potatoes on the menu, and so I re-issue my state-wide plea for someone to please put duck-fat potatoes on their menu. Please? Someone? Anyone?)
Other important facts: The place seats 100, has a private room that seats 16, is not sold out for Christmas parties because they just opened, has a full liquor license, and is serving dinner till 11 o’clock most nights, and 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. And it’s Minnesota’s first Filipino fine-dining restaurant! What a nice surprise with which to end the year.
89 10th Street S., Mpls.