The dirt on dining at Subo

The downtown restaurant offers pricey Southeast Asian fare.

PHOTO COURTESY SUBOEXPERIENCE.COM

PHOTO COURTESY SUBOEXPERIENCE.COM

Tony Libera

While new downtown restaurant SuboâÄôs fusion of Southeast Asian recipes and French culinary training sounds like a delicious new dining niche, some confusion remains as to whether or not itâÄôs a bar or a restaurant. Dish sizes cry out bar, but the scarcity of drinks suggests the latter. WhereâÄôs the abundance that America loves? Subo turns out to be a place to sit and nibble, but not to feed the beast. Ambiance is its biggest draw, and the menu is fairly large in scope and tiny in portions, featuring surf, turf and wuss-turf (vegetarian). The physical restaurant is deceptively sized, appearing to be only a long stretch of corridor, lined with an elegant bar top, but further exploration reveals a large dining area in back, complete with an open view of the slick kitchen. The walls are bathed in crimson paint and lightly sprinkled with Southeast Asian paraphernalia and the number of weekend patrons makes the space cozy while not claustrophobic. ThereâÄôs a healthy atmosphere at Subo, made all the more personable by the chefâÄôs promotion of sharing. The spiced fried chicken is crispy and full of flavor, with black sea salt and white pepper coating its crunchy shell. ThereâÄôs a small cup of banana ketchup for dunking, which remarkably captures the essence of both fruits in its puréed form. The only problem is that for eight bucks you receive only four little lollipops. Delicious? Yes, but at $2 a pop theyâÄôre hardly worth the price. The Ahi Kinilaw is bigger and more filling than other plates, with light, marinated ahi topping a patty of avocado and pickled onions for a crunch. Thin crostini are supposed to be used as scoopers, but the task proves difficult for even the most dexterous of eaters. One of the finer dishes is the Lumpia Shanghai. It features a half dozen short but delicious ground pork spring rolls with bamboo. But the real catch is the Mandarin orange chili, a modern day ambrosia that livens up every dish on the menu. The dimly lit environment and diverse nosh begs for a sprawling booze list, but again size is of concern. The beer is average in price, but options are limited. The wine selection is more varied, but it would seem that sake is the drink of choice here. ThereâÄôs a solid range of bottles, from the consumer friendly Hou Sohu âÄúsparkling,âÄù which comes in at $18, to the Chokaisan Junmai Daiginjo, which sells for $92 a bottle. Those lacking sake knowledge should spring for the Demon Killer based on badass name alone. Prices and portions suggest that Subo is not for the average Joe, but their happy hour is something to be considered. It offers a handful of items not on the actual menu, with the most expensive coming in at five dollars. Drinks are discounted, which means $3.50 for a rail, but again, youâÄôre paying for ambiance. Subo, which is Tagalog for âÄúto feed,âÄù will, in fact, feed you; but chances are it wonâÄôt fill you up unless youâÄôre willing to drop some serious coin.