There's his food at the year-old River North restaurant. And there's his ability to work his magic from coast to coast.
Aglibot, who moved not quite two years ago from L.A. to Chicago to helm Sunda, will be working with the New York-based BLT Restaurant Group to develop several "upscale casual" Asian restaurant concepts nationwide, the PR firm for the BLT group announced today. (The BLT Group has its first Chicago restaurant planned for the JW Marriott opening at 151 W. Adams.)
No need for fans of Aglibot to worry that this signals his departure from Chicago. Aglibot says he is still very much connected to Sunda and Chicago ("I've forged probably more long-term friendships in this city in the last year than I've had over the past 10 years anywhere, he says"). And, in fact, we'll be seeing even more of him in the coming months.
Aglibot, 42, has been developing a show for TLC called "The Food Buddha," which has him doing what he basically always does when he travels to another city -- sending out a flurry of messages to friends in that city to meet him at a string of restaurants, at which they proceed to order the entire menu. At the end of each episode, Aglibot heads back to the Sunda kitchen to create a dish inspired by his trip.
One of Aglibot's best-selling dishes at Sunda -- his Brussels sprouts salad - actually came about this way. He was in L.A. attending a friend's wedding. With a few hours to kill between the ceremony and the reception, he and his date decided to make a pit stop at Jitlada in Hollywood, what Aglibot calls "the best Thai restaurant in the U.S."
"I'm never happy with wedding food," he said. "So we order four or five things," including a crispy salad of water spinach leaves that had been dipped in a turmeric-rice flour batter and fried, served with a tangy pineapple-shrimp-shallot-lime sort of relish. Aglibot thought, "I'm gonna use Brussels sprouts," and called his sous chefs back in Chicago with the idea while still at the table.
Watch for "The Food Buddha" pilot to air in June on TLC.