Rogue 24, R.J. Cooper’s daring foray into modernist multi-course dining during a down economy, is finally scheduled to open on Wednesday, July 27, in Blagden Alley. The former Vidalia chef is hoping his big-dollar-dining gamble will hit the jackpot, turning Rogue into one of the city’s gastronomic destinations, right up there with Jose Andres’s Minibar and Johnny Monis’s Komi.
The place will certainly be a unique experience. The restaurant itself is more speakeasy in spirit, hidden away in an alley off Ninth Street NW, near the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. It will not be a place many stumble upon by accident, unless you’re wandering home from Bar Louie and looking for a spot to hurl.
Okay, I joke. The location is cool, destined to attract diners curious by its Old Washington alleyway ambiance. The interior is unusual, too, a space created by Brian Miller and Lauren Winter of Edit, who have not only incorporated the former garage’s brick and concrete into the minimalist design but also, per Cooper’s request, placed the cooking areas right in the dining room. Almost everything will be prepared right before the diners’ eyes.
Cooper wants diners to have a more direct experience with cooks, hoping to complement the standard middleman (i.e., the server) who usually speaks (and often incorrectly) for the chef. “I think it’s important for the chef to communicate with their guests,” says Cooper, who won the 2007 James Beard Foundation award for best chef mid-Atlantic. “Like if you came to my house for dinner, you’d want that interaction.”
Most people, Cooper adds, spend 85 percent of their time in the kitchen during a dinner party. Why should a restaurant be any different?
Rogue 24 won’t offer menus when you sit down, either. Guests will decide whether they want the 24-course “Journey” ($120 or $175 with drink pairings) or the 16-course “Progression” ($100 or $145 with drink pairings). There will also be a 14-seat salon that will offer cocktails and a la carte items; the salon will not require reservations.
Diners will receive menus when they leave but “not at the table while they’re there,” Cooper says, “because we want people to be surprised.”
The opening-day Journey menu is packed with Cooper’s modernist takes on familiar dishes and snacks, such as an oyster shooter or vichyssoise or braised lamb. Cooper has even created an homage to Jeffrey Buben, his former boss at Vidalia, with his interpretation of Buben’s iconic shrimp and grits. Cooper calls his version “bent and twisted,” which is appropriate for a dish that includes a pave of shrimp over a pudding of corn milk and coarse grits.
“It’s an homage to the person who got me to where I am now,” Cooper says. “I hope he’ll come in here one day. I’d welcome him.”
Others, of course, have helped shape Cooper’s menus at Rogue, and they include general manager/sommelier Matthew Carroll (formerly of 2941 in Falls Church), pastry chef Chris Ford (formerly of Trummer’s on Main in Clifton) and cocktail consultant Derek Brown, the man behind the nearby Columbia Room.
Rogue 24 will start taking reservations this week at 10 a.m. Thursday, for one or more of the 52 seats available in the restaurant. Demand is expected to be high, given the deafening amount of advance publicity the place has received, so Cooper has hired a specialist to handle calls. Bonji Beard was the lead reservationist at Minibar before joining Rogue.
For reservations, call 202-408-9724.
Rogue 24, 922 N St. NW ( located to the rear of N Street in Blagden Alley).