I know what I want for my birthday without any hesitation. Dinner at Rogue 24. There is nothing like a birthday as an excuse for a high-end dining experience, and Rogue 24 tops my list. My husband and I both appreciate innovative cooking. I’ve read enough to know what to expect, including Tom Sietsema’s recent Washington Post review. Sietsema mentions that during the course of his dinner he will:
“lick food off a miniature pedestal, nibble on “lava rocks,” devour a cumulus cloud of flavored air, munch on vegetable “paper” and make our way through a cup of coffee that’s more solid than liquid.”
My husband and I are prepared for whatever Chef RJ Cooper has in store for us. The crazier the better. Rogue 24 has two options for dining. There is a 16 course and a 24 course dinner, called The Journey. The price difference isn’t significant, so we decide to go for the full 24 courses. While it sounds like an inordinate amount of food, I know that the portions will be appropriately small. If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right. I call to make sure they can accommodat my husband’s dietary restrictions (Kosher and therefore no meat or shellfish). Happily, this is not a problem.
Rogue 24 is designed with tables surrounding the cooking station, which provides a birds-eye view into the food preparation. Our table is in a particularly prime location, with Chef Cooper only about ten feet away from us for most of the meal. It’s fascinating to watch the preparation and plating of such small yet complex dishes.
Here are some of the highlights of our journey.
One of our first courses is my favorite in terms of creativity. It is radish/seaweed/walnut, which is a fresh radish planted in “dirt” made from cocoa and crushed nuts. I’m a little hesitant to eat the dirt at first, but once I do I’m impressed by how much it looks and feels like real dirt, but fortunately tastes nothing like it. Or at least how I imagine dirt would taste.
I’m still thinking about course number four: petrossian ossetra/trout/cucumber. I am not normally a fan of caviar, but the trout and cucumber add some needed variety to the texture. I find the dish and presentation delightful. The flavor lingers pleasantly as I await the next course.
Another appealing dish is asparagus/sorrel/brown butter/migas. There is a lot going on here, but it all comes together to form a few deliciously liquid bites. Foam reappears in some of the later courses, along with several variations of dirt.
The squab course is a work of art, and it’s delicious. The photo below is my husband’s version, without the squab. Frequently in the presentation of my husband’s dishes the protein is simply omitted without the addition of some other ingredient. He is feeling the lack of protein. As I am becoming increasingly full, he is n0t.
I am delivered a dish with a sliver of crisp chicken skin on top, accompanied by corn and sage. My husband’s version is without the crisp topping. This is too bad as it is this unexpected treatment that makes the dish interesting. Fortunately, the rest of the dish has enough of a flavor pop that all is not lost.
Dabs of mango and curry add a sweetness that cuts into the strong flavor of frozen ribbons of foie gras. Yes, that’s a touch of “dirt” on the bottom. In this course, my husband’s version has watermelon in place of foie gras.
Peas/oreille/textures/forms is another beautiful dish. It has me longing for just a few more morsels in order to completely soak in the flavor.
Tuna/smoked chili/rice is one of the simpler courses, but the accompanying sriracha mayonnaise makes this a tasty dish that my husband and I can both enjoy.
The porcini mushroom course isn’t one of my favorites, but it does hold its own in the beauty department. The “earth” in this dish is simply a little too earthy for my taste.
A course that takes me by surprise is rogue blue, which is an apricot with pistachio, blue cheese, and buckwheat flowers. The flavor of the cheese, nuts, and fruit are strong, powerful, and sublime. Frequent readers may be surprised that l am writing favorably about a dish featuring nuts. Somehow I can tolerate pistachios in small doses. Pair them with apricots and apparently I can really tolerate them.
By the time we get to happy endings/little things/small bites, I am at my limit in terms of food intake. I happily give some of my allotted portion to my husband. We order French press decaf coffee to accompany our dessert courses. This doesn’t go well. We send it back twice because the coffee is too weak. Both times someone has come by and pressed it too soon. Finally we give up and accept it the way it is. Maybe it’s just the blend of coffee that doesn’t appeal to us. A strong cup of decaf coffee would have been a nice finish.
Chef Cooper is a strong presence and it’s fun to watch him interact with his staff. He flits around the room, and even clears dishes from our table at one point. Throughout the evening the courses are presented by various members of the Rogue 24 team: servers, back waiters, line captains, managers, even line cooks. This is interesting, particularly when a cook steps over with the food. However, sometimes it becomes a deterrent because not all of the team members are equally versed in what they are serving. Some speak too quickly and others are hard to understand, particularly above the loud music playing in the background. A knowledgeable, enthusiastic server can really enhance my enjoyment of a dish. At times I yearn for a bit more fanfare and narrative in the presentation of food that deserves this kind of attention.
At the end of the dinner it’s time to assess. We’ve spent over $400 including our drinks and tip. We have rationalized in advance that this is akin to a night of dinner and theater rolled into one. But we can’t help but think about the value, particularly as it compares to other area restaurants priced similarly.
Great food….check. Nice atmosphere….check. Competent service…check. So what’s missing? A truly exceptional meal makes me feel exhilarated at the finish, and sometimes for days afterwards. My husband and I agree that the experience at Rogue 24 is simply less awe-inspiring than anticipated.
I’m glad to have experienced Rogue 24, and feel a personal sense of accomplishment in checking it off my dining to do list. However, had the actual check been a little lower, I have a feeling that my enthusiasm would be a little bit higher.
Rogue 24, 922 N St. NW, Washington, DC
Washington Post review by Tom Sietsema
Washingtonian review by Todd Kliman