Sometimes, deals don’t work out. When Free Rein, the glam restaurant in the St. Jane Hotel, first opened last summer, Chef Aaron Lirette of GreenRiver had brought his old crew back together for another act. That relationship didn’t last, which was a bit disappointing, but when one door closes, another opens. The new chef at Free Rein is one of my favorites — a woman who has been out of the scene for a minute but is ready to shake things up at this downtown spot.
You might remember Kristine Subido from her time at Wave, the once-super-hip restaurant at the W Hotel, or you might have eaten her insanely good chicken at Pecking Order, the Filipino-inspired spot she opened in Uptown with her mom. Pecking Order closed a few years ago, but Subido has been insanely busy, running a popular catering business based on Pecking Order’s menu, doing meal kits for the uber-health-conscious CrossFit crowd, and oh yeah, raising her two kids. But it was time for Subido to jump back in, and this was the perfect gig.
“I know what it’s like to run a hotel, and a restaurant, and to give it personality, and not just become a hotel restaurant,” says Subido.
She’d been approached about the job when the hotel initially opened — and a few times since — but this time, the stars aligned. Part of the reason? She felt there was a shared appreciation for work-life balance. The hotel is owned by a pair of sisters (Carrie Meghie and Jill Mast), and Subido felt that they really understood her need for time with family. “I like them, and I like that they are women. I’m a single mom and that’s really important to me,” says Subido.
After a couple months spent revamping the kitchen team and the menu, Free Rein is ready for prime time. Given its downtown location, the restaurant is particularly popular for lunch, so Subido really wanted to make the lunch program special. There’s a focus on healthy small plates, all of which come out fast. Sit down to an avocado tartine topped with mizuna and pickled kumquats, or indulge a little with duck confit spring rolls with achara, a Filipino mix of pickled vegetables. She’s also ramping up the bar menu for happy hour, serving homemade chips with hot pepper pimento spread and what she calls a “vegetable charcuterie plate” with lots of different dipping sauces.
The menu won’t be Filipino or even super Filipino-influenced (she’s going for a French-American vibe), but Subido’s heritage and cooking history obviously influence her dishes.
“I’m making the things I like to cook. With that said, is there a Filipino influence here and there? Yes, but it’s not like I’m putting adobo on the menu,” she says.
That said, Pecking Order fans can rejoice little bit, since Subido will be serving a half chicken a la plancha with her signature Pecking Order sauce, as a nod to the old place.
Free Rein offers breakfast, lunch, dinner, in-room dining and banquets, which means Subido has a lot to keep up with. Keeping things running while coming up with an entirely new menu concept wasn’t exactly easy. As she describes it, “It’s the re-opening of an open restaurant.” And it re-opens this weekend.