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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rogue 24

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Shaw/Logan Circle

The Setup

Perhaps no new restaurant has captured the imagination and attention of the food blogging world of DC like Rogue 24. First, take the incredible buzz that follows a James Beard accoladed chef leaving a Top 10 restaurant to start his own. Then pile onto that a minibar-esque tasting menu, complete with innovative ridiculous cooking techniques, and an incredible online outrage stemming the release of the restaurant's not-out-of-the-ordinary reservation contract, and you have all the makings of outrageous levels of buzz. So I headed to a Friday night dinner there with Official Girlfriend of DCWD Texas, and Official Friends of DCWD MM and MPDD.

The Vibe

Part, if not the majority, of Rogue 24's cache of cool comes from its setting: a converted garage in a back alley. Rogue finds itself as a midpoint between the rapidly rising 14th St corridor and the Convention Center/Chinatown outliers of Corduroy and The Passenger. If anything, by sitting in the middle of this food desert, the restaurant becomes that much more appealing; you feel like you've stumbled onto this hip, underground restaurant.

This feeling is furthered by the decor. Like many of its contemporaries, Rogue 24 aims to be classy while down-to-earth, "hipster" in a non-pejorative way. All of the characteristics of the post-industrial theme are there: exposed brick and a vaulted open ceiling, a workstation by the host stand. But grafted onto it is a trendy interior, from the casual lounge in front where you can sip on Derek Brown creations, to the woven white orb lights that hang above each table. Seating includes a few chef's-table-type bar seats, with a ring of twos and fours and a few sixes around the edge of the restaurant.

All of this ignores the central premise of Rogue 24: the open kitchen, set like a theater-in-the-round in the center of the dining area. From your table, you can witness as the chefs scurry about, creating the very food you're about to eat. And it's the chefs themselves who present your meals tableside, as bussers and sommeliers move in an effortless ballet around you, clearing and setting your utensils while not making too much of a disturbance. Moreover, it's R.J. Cooper who did most of the expediting on this trip, and who glad-hands most of the tables, including ours. He makes a small joke with pescetarian Texas about rabbits being vegetarians, and shakes our hands at the end of the meal. It's a small thing but friendly. In general, this was the theme of the service of the night: very personable, efficient, and friendly. Definitely on the better end of service I've had in this city.

The Food

We opted for the 24-course Journey menu with pairing, though we'll also be able to clue you pescetarians in on what's in store for you.

To start, we were all given a small shot-glass of watermelon cocktail: watermelon extract with basil and sparkling water. Perhaps it wasn't the best amuse for the meal, as it wasn't terribly innovative or even particularly delicious. But it was at least seasonally on point, and refreshing.

The first three dishes came as a set of bite-sized starters. First was the "bone marrow," with a bone made of a hollowed out heart of palm, marrow made from olives, topped with some orange and a piece of iberico lomo. It was okay, with an interesting briny flavor profile, but the ham was lost in the dish, and it was better in concept than in practice.

Second was a chip made of kimchi but textured like a pork crackling, and topped with caviar-like soy bells. Once again, the flavors were interesting but the overwhelming taste was that of salt, with the sesame and soy getting in the way of other things.

The third was a piece of cauliflower topped with ossetra caviar and champagne air. This was perhaps the best of the three, though the cauliflower preparation made it surprisingly un-cauliflower like; it was more like... well, the heart of palm actually. But stickier. Still the sweet tart of the champagne air was a solid flavor.

Alongside this dish was our first wine pairing - an aperitif of Foggy Ridge apple cider from Virginia. It was sharper than most ciders, and was nice for a bubbles course... but something was a little missing without the champagne.

The next group of three started with a ceviche of razor clams, topped with apple, fennel, and a potato foam. This was a favorite of mine, with the potato foam providing a creamy counterpoint to the clams. While it wasn't very "ceviche-y", it was definitely enjoyable, with a great blend of flavors.

Fifth was Rogue's interpretation of leftover Chinese takeout, known affectionately as their "fried rice special #2" - corn crispies, with dried corn, carrots, and cabbage topped with scallions and for us, duck. This was served in a small bowl placed in our left hands, and was actually a dish that grew on me. The first bite seemed pedestrian, but each successive bite made me enjoy it all the much more. Not a dinner dish, but definitely a fun snack.

Then came the "sea floor," a piece of sea urchin on top of squid ink "rocks" and seaweed with dots of clamato ketchup. This dish's success hinged on whether or not you could deal with the admittedly-acquired taste that is squid ink. If you do, then the urchin was an amazing creamy flavor with some interesting sharp contrasts; if not, then its strength overpowered everything else in the deep bowl.

These three dishes were paired with a cocktail, a classic known as the Holland House, made of Dutch gin, dry vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and lemon peel. Despite its stronger components, it tasted like either a fruity martini, or a drier lemonade, and was a really great taste.

Seventh was one of the night's first homages to Chef Cooper's former kitchen at Vidalia. This was the restaurant's play on shrimp and grits, called the "Hail Buben." This version though, came with a grits-crusted croquette filled with corn milk, paired with a shrimp terrine and shrimp foam and arugala pesto. The grits croquette was absolutely lovely, and the foam was on point, providing with a good play on the flavors of the classic Southern dish. This, to me, demonstrated the trend of the night: when the kitchen played to its strengths, and just made homages to Southern food, that's where it succeeded.

Our Southern interlude was temporarily interrupted by the next dish, a quail egg yolk served on an edible hay next with shaved cracklings for us, and black truffle for Texas. Served in a capped dish, the presentation was one of smokiness, from the amount that billowed out from the bowl when it was uncovered, to the flavoring of the hay. By capturing that burnt straw barbecue taste with the hay and smoke, it added a depth to the whole dish that I think was spot on.

The meal returned back to Southern flavors in the next dish: a piece of brioche toast topped with bacon powder, Vidalia onion ice cream, and a piece of hog jowl bacon. Nothing says classic Southern flavors quite like pork and onions, and in fact these were the touchpoints of this amazing bite.  The onion ice cream was a surprisingly sweet and sumptuous bite, and the bacon was a perfect salty companion. Combined with the lightness of the brioche, it was a great dish.

These three dishes were paired with a Seebrich riesling from Germany. Despite the varietal's often saccharine qualities, this particular riesling was less so, providing a nice sharpness to pair.

Dish ten was the restaurant's take on vichyssoise, the classic served cold potato-and-leek soup, but this time augmented by black truffle and almond milk replacing the cream, and poured tableside. This was both successful and not; while the flavors were there and it was a pleasant bite, it generally lacked the full creaminess that makes a vichyssoise so enjoyable (I blame the almond milk substitution). Still a nice dish.

The next dish began the divergence between our meal and Texas's. Up until this point, she had been eating the same dish but without the meat toppings. But instead of the spherified liquid chicken paired with porcini mushrooms, Texas had a stack of watermelon, tomato, and coffee. Both basically can be describe with the same few phrases: overwhelmingly one note (chicken on the one hand, watermelon on the other); interesting preparations but perhaps not much actual difference in terms of contrast; decent flavors otherwise.

The twelfth dish was perhaps the favorite of the night, referred to as the "What's Up, Doc?" A piece of rabbit paired with a bed of carrots, pecans, and "soil," made of some heretofore mystery ingredient. There were a lot of things that were going well for this dish. The rabbit was immaculately prepared, as were the carrots, which were the perfect balance between crisp and melt-in-your-mouth. And there was just this je ne sais quoi about the soil that brought the whole thing together. How good was the rabbit? The pescetarian Texas craved it the most.

These dishes came with perhaps the most eye-opening pairing: a Vigneti Massa timorasso from Italy. The waiter compared it to a chardonnay, but outside of the light-bodied slight rustic taste, the comparisons ended there. This timorasso had an amazing honey finish that was so delightful, I even considered asking to steam the label off just to know its name.

Next up came the "caprese salad" which utilized all the flavors and even ingredients of the classic Italian dish, but with a reimagined presentation. Heirloom tomato pieces were coasted in olive oil and ricotta salata, mixed with micro basil, candied apples, tomato powder, and caviar-like balsamic balls. It was fun, and the flavors were there, but it recalled a similar but simpler heirloom tomato salad at 2941 (the review of that meal is coming soon) from a few weeks before which stuck with me more, and was just straight out better.

Fourteen was foie gras shavings over lavender and huckleberry and a lightly-flavored mystery substance with the consistency of florists' foam; Texas's version replaced the foie with large chunks of this foam. Right in line with other cold foie preparations, this emphasized its creamier, more savory notes (rather than the fatty, unctuous ones) which paired perfectly with the huckleberry.

Finishing off this trio was a sort of beet slushie, topped with smoked char roe, fennel pollen, and yogurt. For me, like the sea floor, the dish hinged on your fondness for beets. Texas, not a beet fan, stopped halfway, overpowered by the singular strong taste; for me, a later-in-life beet convert, enjoyed its interesting composition and its matching of different flavors. This set was paired with a white-to-red transition, a Domaine de Triennes rose. This was the most unmemorable pairing, which probably speaks to the quality of the pairings more than anything.

The next set brought forth more savory flavors, ushering in a transition from summer to fall. First came the restaurant's shabu shabu: a piece of Wagyu short rib (for Texas, a matsutake mushroom clump) with mushroom, onion, and elephant garlic with broth poured tableside over it. For me, this was perfect, in that it didn't try to do too much and rather just let the dish speak for itself. Umami notes were the most apparent, and it seemed like the perfect dish for those under-the-weather nights.

The seventeenth dish brought a large difference between what we had and what Texas was served. Our dish was a forest nage, a soup of various savory and sweet flavors, including matsutake mushrooms, coffee, and bitter chocolate. For Texas, she was presented with a "garden in a bottle," a carbonated vegetable soup. For us, these were the forgettable dishes of the night; other than the amazingly cute presentation, Texas's soup was ordinary, and this was the one dish that was completely unremarkable even 15 minutes after the meal.

Eighteen was a relatively sizable dish, a piece of squab, paired with turnip, walnuts, in a concord grape sauce - Texas had her squab replaced with mushroom dumplings. The squab was fine, but for everyone, the turnip was just overpowering, sharp and bitter. It was one of the most unpleasant dish of the night. Which is sad, because the pairing was again, very nice: a Garnacha blend from Spain.

Next up was a piece of lamb neck, served with black garlic, eggplant, and lemon. This dish was wonderfully savory, and definitely brought forth lovely flavor combinations that were perhaps seasonably out-of-place, but definitely enjoyable. All the same, Texas's dish was just as good: an interpretation of tortilla espanola. With the consistency of mashed potatoes, it wonderfully combined the potato flavor with a light egg touch, and was absolutely fantastic.

Unfortunately, the next dish was the least favorite - a garden mosaic of shoots, gels, and powders. This dish fully fell into the model of "we're doing this just because we know how." The green goddess ice cream was decent, but it was the gelees of tomato and carrot that just fell flat, and were actually sort of unappetizing. Hands down, the dish that fell the most flat.

The last savory dish of the night was entitled pipe dreams with red pepper, olives, citrus, and a healthy serving of goat cheese. This dish was cool, with fun flavor combinations, but might as well have been called olives in textures, including a spherified olive oil ball (a carry-over probably from sous chef Ryan, who came over from Jose Andres and minibar, where he incidentally also cooked my meal). Anytime you stick goat cheese with citrus and olives, I'm yours, so this was right in my wheelhouse. Paired with a Speedy Creek sangiovese from California, it was a nice end to the savory portion of the meal.

The desserts ran the gamut. Once again, the Southern dish was the most successful: a play on peaches and cream with bourbon-soaked peaches and a peach gelee, coated with marshmallow noodles, and a crumbled creme anglaise. This was a wonderful and classic combination of flavors, with interesting texture from the noodle, and a nice warm finish from the bourbon. By far, this was the best dessert.

The other large dessert, the Tennessee - named after the source of its ingredients - was less so: a chocolate cremeux topped with more bitter chocolate, and dirt composed of powdered chocolate, ground coffee, and hazelnut. For all its rich flavors, it was sort of an unmemorable dish, which is not something you expect from the penultimate serving.

The happy endings, a set of petit fours was pieces of pecan brittle and small bars of raspberry chocolate ganache. Sweet and to the point is the best way to describe them. Not anything inspiring or brilliant, but good. Especially paired with the Val-Dieu, a quadruple (!) ale from Belgium, this was one of the better pairings of the night, with the beer providing a sweet but creamy note.

The Verdict

Definitely a Top 25 meal, and a Top 10 experience, with excellent pairings and a really cool setting. But for the price and given its contemporaries, it's definitely a one-time visit.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
: Between the show of watching the chefs cook for you, and the three-to-four hour length of the meal, it's its own pairing.

Rogue 24 on Urbanspoon

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