- RJ Cooper and his team. The average age of his chefs is 21, he says.
- Rogue 24 is housed in an old garage building in Blagden Alley.
- The salon doesn't take reservations, but you can get cocktails and a la carte dishes here.
- The dining room, with the kitchen as centerpiece.
- Cooper says he wants diners to ask him questions as he prepares their meal.
- The decor is intended to marry the rough edges of a 1907-era building with finesse, like tattoos and rose.
Substantial ink has been spilled in the lead-up to next week's opening of Rogue 24, from stories of chef and owner RJ Cooper luring top talent away from local kitchens (see: Chris Ford, Trummer's on Main; Matthew Carroll, 2941; Bonji Beard, Minibar) to the reviews of Rogue's pop-up preview in New York. And now, at long last, Rogue 24 opens up next week in a renovated 1920s car garage tucked behind a red brick-paved alley near the convention center. They've got two tasting menus, an a la carte salon, fancy equipment and vintage furnishings. Oh, and the kitchen is in the middle of the dining room.
If you can find Rogue 24 among the dilapidated buildings in Blagden Alley, it's the one with the wooden exterior and graffiti of a chef's knife hanging over the doorway. Just inside is a 14-seat retro salon where those who can't get reservations can still imbibe in a Derek Brown-designed cocktail program and order from a short a la carte menu. Cooper's grandfather's enormous drafting table serves as host stand along with other vintage pieces that stand in stark contrast to the iPads the hosts will be using and the roto-evaporator in the corner.
Cooper says he wanted this restaurant to bring together roughness with finesse — motorcycles and tattoos with rosé. So the brick walls are still splattered with plaster, a wash basin filled with ice is your wine cooler, and the back kitchen is lined with subway tiles. Fiberglass lamps in a basket-weave pattern hang in the dining room, but slightly off-kilter with one another. The acoustics aren't great, but Cooper shrugs it off, saying, "It's really a kitchen with tables in it, so who cares about the noise."
The kitchen as an island in the center of the dining room is where Cooper will be every night with his team of chefs preparing the 16-course Progression menu and 24-course Journey menu that are the essential concept of Rogue 24. He says he's hoping guests will ask questions as he cooks. The team has been working on the menu for some time, but Cooper says they nailed it down on, oh, Tuesday night or so. They started with the idea of in-season tomatoes and shrimp in honor of Cooper's old boss at Vidalia, Jeffrey Buben, and worked from there. Cooper is adamant that nothing will stay on the menu for longer than a year, no matter how much people love it: "We don't want to be put in a box."
And the food philosophy here is, in his own words, "guru-ish." Cooper doesn't want anyone to come in to his restaurant with an idea of what it's going to be like because, he says, like the Grateful Dead, the set list changes with every show. He eschews the experimental cuisine label, despite owning two roto-evaporators and other gadgets, and also all regional cuisine labels. "Food went through a really shitty period a few years ago and it's back on a swing ... into a realm that's really a lot of fun."
Rogue 24 opens July 27 at 6 p.m., and though the restaurant is already booked for opening weekend, they're accepting reservations for the months ahead at 202-408-9724.