The space where R.J. Cooper’s future diners will shell out $150 for 24 courses is, at the time of our interview, nothing more than brick and concrete walls and a mud floor. This shell of a building is a former auto body shop with high ceilings and a massive garage door. There is graffiati on the walls, albiet done by the propietor himself with a can of spray paint.
Yes, Rogue 24 isn’t much to look at right now. You even have to walk through Blagden Alley to reach it. But Cooper, the James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef formerly of Vidalia, has plans not only to transform this space into an “urban fine dining restaurant” — by which he means a sort of gritty New York location that makes you feel part of the city, not apart from it — but also to create a “dining experience [that’s] one of the best in the city or the country.”
No one has ever accused Cooper of aiming low.
“We’re throwing out all the rules,” says Cooper. “We’re not putting parameters on what we do. We’re not saying, ‘We can’t do this.’”
That freedom of expression has attracted some of the city’s finest talents to Rogue 24, which isn’t even expected to open until late spring at the earliest. Chris Ford left his position as pastry chef at Trummer’s on Main to work for Cooper; mixologist and writer Derek Brown, the man behind the Columbia Room and The Passenger, is also on board as a consultant, working with the Rogue culinary team to create special cocktails for the tasting menus. And just this week, Cooper announced that he’s hired a general manager and sommelier: Matthew Carroll who’s leaving his spot at 2941 to join Cooper’s team.
Carroll is a prize catch; he’s not only served as wine director and sommelier for 2941 but also worked as sommelier and cellar master at the The Inn at Little Washington. Carroll’s hiring even comes with a two-fer: Jonathan Schuyler, currently assistant sommelier and cellar master at 2941, will be following Carroll to Rogue 24.
The chef’s assembled team has Cooper ready to unleash the superlatives and take on his early critics, who already think his pricey concept is out of touch with the current economy and our modest dining trends. “We’re going to give you a value-oriented meal,” Cooper counters. “Do you think it’s a value to pay $60 for bad service, mediocre food and not come away with an experience?”
Cooper is promising his own version of dinner and a show at Rogue 24. There will be four stations in the middle of the 52-seat dining room; the stations will be outfitted with prep counters, under-the-counter refrigerated drawers, an induction range, a speed-cook oven, a hand sink and a holding cabinet, among other toys. Some butchering and prep will take place in the back kitchen area, but “all the cooking will take place on the islands,” Cooper says.
The chef wants you to “feel the heat, see the action and feel what’s going on” while the cooks prepare your meal. Combine this experience with culinary and beverage professionals who are at the top of their game, and Cooper believes Rogue 24 will offer a value matched by few in town. The designer drink pairings alone — expected to be four wines, two cocktails, one beer and an “obscure” drink — will push the meal into the value category, Cooper thinks, given that the drinks will be included in the $150 pricetag. (Rogue will charge $120 for the non-alcoholic cocktail option; the establishment will even have a “premium” pairing option that will make very rare wines and spirits available for a certain price.)
The difference between Rogue 24 and many of the mid-level restaurants in town that charge upwards of $100 per person when the tab is settled? “It’ll be the difference between seeing the Rolling Stones and seeing a cover band,” Cooper promises.
Construction on Rogue 24 is currently taking place at 922 N St. NW. If completed on time, the operation is expected to open in mid-May. Aside from the 24-course “journey” tasting menu, Rogue will also offer a 16-course “progression” menu for either $100 (non-alocholic drinks) or $120 (alcoholic drinks), and the 14-seat salon in front of the restaurant will offer six a la carte dishes and a limited number of designer cocktails to guests.
Rogue 24 is expected to be open from 6 p.m. to midnight Tuesdays through Saturdays.