Get your fill

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January 18, 2010
By: Carla Waldemar
Carla Waldemar
Filipino fine dining: an oxymoron no longer, and Downtown’s palate-pushers got the memo. Just weeks after a quiet opening, the place was packed on a sub-zero Tuesday — a paean to the power of word-of-mouth on what’s mouth-worthy on the culinary scene.

Subo — meaning “to feed” in Filipino — occupies the site of the former Hell’s Kitchen — a slightly less toasty region, geographically speaking, than its predecessor, but vivid with the warmth of spices cascading from the open kitchen. It’s headed by chef/owner Neil Guillen, who’s honed his homeland’s dining heritage via a CIA diploma (a prestigious culinary academy that boasts better use of gathered info than another agency sharing its initials), and alum of a New York kitchen also serving Filipino comfort food.

The cozy spot salutes touches of a Southeast Asian marketplace — wooden crates as shelving, gauzy drapes across the skylight — spared of Pier One overkill. Thread your way past the bar to a couple of candle-lit sanctuaries, one with a view of the busy kitchen, to fabricate a tasting menu from the list of small  plates to share, all under (and most, way under) $10. Many, however, require a lexicon (big mistake: You know how guys hate to ask directions, and Minnesota’s laconic Scandos further blanch from inquiries). What the heck is achara? Mochiko? Longanisa? And the item saluted in many a preparation, kalamansi? (An Asian lime; well, say so!)

It flavors the skirt steak, fish, octopus and more, including our stellar dessert. But more on that later. First, a plate of seared scallops — more on the robust and strongly-flavored side than sweet and supple, topped with a swell touch of eggplant marmalade and set upon a robust, and salty, sake/bacon beurre blanc. Next, making for a nice contrast, the hot mustard dumplings: ground pork, carrots and bamboo in a mochiko wrapper (wonton skin, turns out), and a contrasting plate of “pork candy — bite-size bits of sausage sweetened with palm sugar, balanced with a spritz of lime — a better choice, perhaps, than the Lumpia Shanghai — snippets of spring rolls, (too) crisp and cigarette-thin, filled with pork and bamboo and served with a sweet-hot chili dip.

The sleeper of the evening? Subo fish and chips. Deep fried spears of crunchy, panko crusted tilapia come paired with plantain chips and a rich, creamy aioli enhanced with tobiko (OK, I knew that one — fish roe), says the menu — but blindfolded, you’d be hard-pressed to detect the flavor). Still, dip away, enticed by the yin-yang of crisp textures flirting with the satiny mayo, and pop another of those addictive, translucent chips in your mouth.

Back to our kalamansi. The baby limes flavored an elegant curd to accompany a quartet of beignets — doughnuts, basically — glossed with a sheen of cinnamon-chili syrup. (Also listed: a Thai chili-chocolate panna cotta and lemongrass-coconut pot de crème that will lure me back.)


89 S. 10th St.