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Aja Morphing into Argent; Rodelio Aglibot Creating 1893 World's Fair-inspired Menu

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In early January, it was speculated that Rodelio Aglibot (Sunda) was returning to the Chicago restaurant scene to work on a new project at the Dana Hotel that would replace the current restaurant, Aja. Now Eater learns that Aglibot is in fact working on helping convert Aja into Argent Restaurant and Argent Raw Bar with a goal of opening on May 1.

Aglibot has teamed with a new restaurant management group called C.O.A.L. (Chicago. Original. Authentic. Legitimate.) that comprises restaurant PR vet Julie Darling, Raw Bar owner Toni Motamen and Double Door partner Sean M. Mulroney. The team is working with the Dana Hotel to create Argent, which pulls inspiration from the 1893 World's Fair. The fairgrounds originally opened to the public on May 1, hence the target opening date of the new restaurant.

Aglibot, who serves as Argent's culinary director, is creating a menu revolving around the idea of "comfort chic" that is reminiscent of cuisine enjoyed between 1850 and 1900 and has been sourcing numerous historical cookbooks for inspiration.

While still crafting the final menu, he's planning to include a section called S.O.S. (shit on a shingle, in reference to soldiers returning from war and referring to certain common dishes) featuring numerous items on toast, like a classic Béarnaise sauce, lobster curry and creamed chipped beef (a military staple) using different high-quality sheared meats and charcuterie. Lunch will feature a more extensive sandwich list featuring a Danish-based bread that has the texture of a croissant with the structure of white bread.

Aglibot, who has been collaborating with current Aja chef Ariel Bagadiong on the menu, plans to have regional dishes like whitefish as well as frog legs, but plans to stay away from pork belly ("this is not a gastropub menu," he said.) He has created what he calls the best French dressing to be poured tableside over seasonal greens. Aglibot tested about 20 recipes until landing on this one from 1856 and feels this will become a signature dish. He'll also create a "porcupine meatball" made of beef and veal and crusted in rice to look like a porcupine.

Another dish Aglibot hopes to put in the spotlight is what he thinks will be the best scrambled egg in Chicago—and at $15 it had better be. The dish will use organic eggs coddled to order, finished in a double boiler and served with brioche. It'll take 10 to 15 minutes to prepare. "The texture is almost like a really creamy polenta," he said. "You have to eat it with a spoon."

"I'm excited because it gives me an opportunity to do continental American food, which I've done for a long time, but in Chicago I've only been known to do Asian," Aglibot said. "My background is broader than that."

As far as the restaurant goes, the renovation will be done in stages and the building of new furniture is taking place offsite as to not disrupt service at Aja. The space will take on a new color scheme made up mostly of gray and eggplant to create a lush aesthetic. The current carpet is being removed and the team will incorporate recycled materials with the natural wood already existing in the restaurant.

The current sushi bar on the second level will be removed and replaced with a beverage bar featuring a traditional raw bar. Aglibot will reduce the sushi offerings, but will still keep a handful of rolls. The private tatami room will remain private, but will have new booths that can be configured for more intimate settings.

The idea of Argent, which means silver, is to represent the boundless industry and construction that took place toward the end of the 19th century in Chicago. Not unlike this project.
· Is Aja Closing? [~EChi~]

Argent Restaurant & Raw Bar

660 N. State St., Chicago, IL