RJ Cooper’s Rogue 24 showcases his culinary vision both literally and creatively by focusing the diner’s experience around the kitchen and allowing his chefs to precisely execute his gastronomic ballet. The expression, “culinary theater” has never been a more apt description as it has in Cooper’s two year old establishment. You wouldn’t assume such a sophisticated menu and execution awaits as you arrive to Rogue 24; located down a back alley in the Shaw neighborhood one block from the convention center.
Cooking is theatre and art to Cooper.
The exterior of the building has wooden paneling and the inset “Rogue 24” is illuminated in bright white lights, in case you were lost. The abandoned auto shop next door covered in graffiti being a perfect introduction to the hip culinary destination that awaits you across the alley; mechanical execution, covered in artistic flair. The location is perfect for Copper’s pedigree; a Detroit native with stints cooking at Vidalia the DC seminal upscale southern comfort food destination; his elevation of simple dishes working side by side with his crew shows the level of art that this once humble working class profession has been raised in DC.
When you walk into Rogue 24 you are greeted by smiling hosts and you take in the gorgeous exposed brick, small sitting area, and of course, the staging area that all the tables are situated around, the open kitchen. Once inside, the restaurant opens to a kitchen that is centrally located where the guest tables are within arms length of the “actors” quietly firing the dishes. Cooking is theatre and art to Cooper and you can see he truly enjoys the presentation and delivery of the food as much as the process of cooking it. Cooper routinely delivers food to tables and engages his guests; his larger than life persona is genuine as he is as happy to be there as you are.
Gregarious and extroverted; Cooper will engage guests and go out of his way to make your experience enjoyable and is just as quickly running to get a chilled guest in a strapless dress a shawl as he is to turn up the heat on your appetizer.
The bookshelf to the rear of the restaurant, filled with books from Noma, Modernist Cuisine, and El Bulli, foreshadows the food that will soon be expertly plated and presented. Modern or “molecular gastronomy” as a term may seem blasé; what Cooper aspires to is simple clean dishes which focus on the flavors of their base ingredients. While a smoked pasta with truffle fonduta and parmesan may sound complicated; what the diner will experience is the most concise mac and cheese plate to be found (this happy diner has had a second serving for dessert).
With the explosion of tasting menu-only options at restaurants; a 24 course menu may prove to be unapproachable to some diners. To counter this sentiment, Cooper has recently introduced a more approachable four course menu intended integrate Rogue 24 into your list of every-day-of-the-week restaurants verses the once a year only destination. The four course menu offers larger portions for $75 a person and an optional drink pairing for an additional price of around $40. One quibble with this format is the four courses are still quite substantial enough to leave full (see: eating another pasta for dessert).
If you were lucky enough to snag a seat during DC’s restaurant week you were able to catch the unveiling of the four course menu. Cooper had a prefix restaurant week menu of $60.13 with the “captain’s pairing” of booze for $39.97.Now what to drink? Well, the drink pairing is worth it just to try the chef-tender, Bryan Tetorakis’s famous drinks. Luckily, the abandoned garage next door will is under lease by Cooper and he is creating a gastro-bar tentatively named “Rogue Spirits” that will hopefully open next year. As always, we will get in line to try any drink by Tetorakis and love anything that is helmed by Cooper; it’s a win-win.
Written by FamousDC contributor Aly Casey