Sub Rosa: An aboveboard underground restaurant

The Sub Rosa aperitif, after which there is no turning back

The Sub Rosa aperitif, after which there is no turning back

Doesn't the term "underground restaurant" imply something a little clandestine, even illicit? But Sub Rosa, chef Nick Schneider's new underground venture ("sub rosa" is Latin for "top secret"), has its own website, serves dinner to the general public, and trumpeted its inaugural dinner on a widely read blog. Quo vadis, Sub Rosa? Shouldn't you be a little more, like, sotto voce?


The Hot Dish attended Sub Rosa's special introductory dinner for "professional local foodies" over the weekend, for which the usual $75 "donation" (not including a "donated" tip) was waived. The suggested donation is one reason the Minnesota Department of Public Health is vague about the legality of "underground" restaurants ("It's a gray area," we were told). Here's how Sub Rosa's latest event went down.

On the first floor of what was once an Uptown mansion and is now a triplex, hostess Georgia Rubenstein opened the door to reveal a lovely dining room, with romantic Valentine-y tablecloths and candles. She poured everyone a mysterious concoction of champagne, beet essence, crystallized ginger, and lime juice. The eleven guests, many of whom had never met one another, began to chat, finding odd topics of common interest. A charming cellist named Jeff Erbland, of the Mill City Quartet, performed selections from J.S. Bach. Nick Schneider announced and described the first course: puree of Minnesota chestnut soup.

The salad was Dungeness crab, avocado, and local greens in a small, festive tower, surrounded by marinated blood orange slices. The wine pairings were unglamorous but apt. The piece de resistance--venison medallions atop a chewy, delicious grain called farro, which was bright red by virtue of beet and Madeira sauce--was the kind of entrée some diners might be too mild-mannered to order in a restaurant but would be happy to have someone plonk down in front of them unasked.

By the time we got around to the chocolate flourless cake with passion fruit sauce and coconut sorbet, the diners were getting all in vino veritas. Enterprising foodie Kate Sommers, noticing how many things we all had in common, took it upon herself to list them. We found it fascinating, for example, that everyone present was very fond of cilantro, though our fascination might have been pretty much entirely due to the generous pourings of Picpoul de Pinet Domaine Félines Jourdan Côteaux du Languedoc (2009), the George Duboeuf Macon Villages Chardonnay (2009), and the Paul Jaboulet Aine Cotes du Rhone Parallele 45 Rouge (2007).

Nick Schneider plans to carry on with more Sub Rosa dinners, not to mention his inspired participation in the "Picnic Operetta" series. You can find out more about the Sub Rosa dinners here.