Free Rein, the ground-floor restaurant inside the St. Jane Hotel on Michigan Avenue in Downtown Chicago, has a new chef who is using the city’s immigrant neighborhoods for inspiration. Chef Kristine Subido is slowly rolling out changes and she hopes to unveil an entirely new menu in two weeks. Subido was known for her Filipino chicken restaurant, Pecking Order which closed in 2014 in Uptown.
Subido has kept busy at farmers markets and with her prepared meal business, Highflier Provisions. It supplies food to boutique gyms and fitness studios. The business has shown Subido that there’s demand for healthy and vegetarian options. She’ll serve plenty of vegetable dishes and seafood. She’ll treat meat eaters to a version of her signature Filipino-style chicken. It’s marinated in calamansi juice and comes with a soy glaze. The kitchen lacks a grill, so the skin-on half-bird will be crisped on a flattop.
The chicken is only part of a menu that will incorporate subtle dashes of international flavors. Subido lives in Albany Park, one of the most diverse Chicago neighborhoods that’s home to Korean, Mexican, and Middle Eastern restaurants. Dishes like hamachi crudo with a kalbi-style vinegar and crispy calamari with a honey-harissa glaze, shave pecorino, lime zest, and cherry bomb peppers will show off those influences. There’s also mussels with a coconut milk, turmeric ginger broth with Thai basil.
Besides Free Rein, Subido is also developing the menu for St. Jane’s new rooftop lounge, called the Nobel. There’s still no opening date for the bar, though photos make it seem close. Subido is thinking about a series of small plates that can be finished with a single bite.
At its core, Free Rein will remain an American brasserie that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Eventually, Subido wants to serve Filipino-style skirt steak and garlic fried rice for breakfast. It’s different from how the menu looked under previous chef Aaron Lirette. He left Free Rein earlier this year.
Subido said she knows the downtown crowd, full of office workers and tourists. It has different requirements compared to a neighborhood restaurant.
“I just love different ways of cooking,” Subido said. “To cook different foods from different communities.”
It turns out the hotel’s ownership reached out to Subido before the St. Jane opened. Subido said she wasn’t interested in the work that goes into opening a hotel. She had gone through that before at the W Chicago Lakeshore. But over the last five years, she’s missed working at hotels. As a single mom, she prioritized her two children. But now that her oldest is in high school, she’s ready to return. She actually started a month ago and hired a new staff including executive sous chef Ariel Bagadiong. The two worked together at the W.
Bagadiong is a former pastry chef and he’ll handle desserts at Free Rein. They’ll have four desserts on the menu including banana hazelnut crunch and a pineapple upside down cake made with olive oil cake and topped with olive oil gelato and a brown butter crumble.
Stay tuned for updates on Subido’s menu and an opening date for the Nobel.