Thursday, March 8, 2012

Rogue 24: Rogue Sessions with Jennifer Carroll

We told you about sandwiches in an alley and now we're here to tell you that you can get the finest of fine dining in an alley too. Skeptical? So were a lot of people when former Vidalia chef RJ Cooper opened Rogue 24 in Blagden Alley (near the Convention Center and near the alley housing SUNdeVICH).

Chef Cooper took an old garage and converted it into a showcase for avant garde cuisine. The kitchen is set smack in the middle of the dining room allowing diners an inside look at what it takes to prep a 24 course meal. Cooper is famously brash and picky about diner behavior and I'd heard tales of the "dining contract" people were asked to sign in the restaurant's early days. The contract banned cell phones and cameras from the dining room and set out a host of rules about making and keeping your reservation. Though the contract is gone, I was not about to pull out the camera with Chef Cooper standing 2 inches (literally) away from me all night. We saw other diners taking occasional photos, but for us it wasn't worth it. Don't worry though, I drew two pictures of Rogue 24 so you can see what it's like.


After getting Rogue 24 up and running smoothly, Chef Cooper underwent open heart surgery in January. While Cooper recuperated, Rogue 24 teamed up with Gilt City DC to host a series of Rogue Sessions where an allstar lineup of chefs took the helm. Each Rogue Session featured a mixture of dishes from Chef Cooper's menu and new dishes by each visiting chef. Everyone from Jose Andres to Bryan Voltaggio took their turn at Rogue 24 during Cooper's recovery.

We were thrilled to score a table during Top Chef contestant Jennifer Carroll's recent run. We loved her tough as nails attitude and kick-butt food on Top Chef. We are pleased to report that her food lived up to its reputation and it was a joy to watch her very intense yet friendly demeanor in the kitchen.

Our table was just inches away from the expediting station where Chef Carroll spent much of the night overseeing each dish. It was also fun to catch Chef Cooper in the kitchen in what must have been one of his first nights back to work. They were both friendly and willing to answer questions. One of the best parts of Rogue 24 for us was the way that the dishes are brought out by a rotating roster of servers and chefs. For example, the chef who just made our ox tongue with mostarda, liquid bread, and bitter herbs brought out the dish and explained it to us. This enabled us to ask questions and learn what goes into such a complex menu. The experience suffered during a few dishes when certain servers were difficult to hear and understand. For us, we enjoy these molecular gastronomy journeys when we get to learn a little bit about what we're eating.

The 3 hour adventure was full of hits (octopus with eggplant and chickpeas, rabbit with squash, sage, and mustard seeds, shabu shabu with hen o' the wood mushrooms, onion and bullion) and some "I'm glad I tried this but I don't need to eat that again" (powerfully stinky blue pecorino with dates and preserved walnuts). The pacing of each of the courses was speedy enough that we didn't fall asleep, but spaced enough that we didn't feel rushed. Each course was one or two bites so we didn't leave uncomfortably stuffed, but we also were not ready to go out for pizza after. The sommelier was friendly and didn't look down his nose at us one bit when we didn't do the wine pairing and stuck to one bottle of wine for the night (It was a Wednesday, after all).

As we walked home I told B that I'd most remember Rogue 24 for the overall experience and not the food. It wasn't that the food was subpar, it's just that the theater-like atmosphere is bound to leave a bigger impression.

Second Thoughts from B

First off, let's all take a moment to applaud my adorable wife for her artistic flair. Let's also acknowledge the fact that her stick figures are anatomically correct, at least in so far as the arms and legs are not all growing out of the same point. She's been working hard on that. Ok, back to Rogue 24...

J is right. Long after we forget the subtle nuances and surprising details of each dish, we'll remember interacting with the chefs and watching them work inches from our table. You could be Iron Chef "floor reporter" Kevin Brauch and not get this close to the action. I was all set to have Alton Brown yell at me for an explanation of the latest dish's foam.

For people who geek out about food, the Rogue 24 experience is not to miss. It is like pulling back the giant green curtain only to reveal a wizard that is just as amazing as you initially thought. The kitchen ran like clockwork with amazing professionalism and flair, and surprisingly devoid of any of the drama that we've come to expect from watching food-based "reality" shows. I asked Chef Carroll, who has a TV reputation as being short tempered, how she'd handle someone screwing up. With a mischievous smile, she reminded us that there was a room in the back.

Thankfully for all the diners and all the staff, there was no need for a blow up. With the exception of the occasional, "Did you catch what he just said this was?" I really enjoyed this edible show. It is clearly not something you'd do regularly, but like an opera for the ears and an art exhibit for the eyes, Rogue 24 felt like the highest form of art for the mouth. Bravo!
Rogue 24 on Urbanspoon

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