In a city once known only for its political prowess, DC has been quickly climbing the charts in the upscale dining rankings over the past ten years, partly attributable to RJ Cooper’s effort to raise the bar with his first restaurant--Rogue 24. Although the city has not yet joined the ranks of NYC, LA, Chicago, Las Vegas, and San Francisco in being deemed Michelin-star worthy, RJ’s restaurant will most certainly be rated when this guide expands its US rankings to DC. It is a restaurant that is ahead of its time in many ways--offering gastronomic exploitations via 24-, 16-, and 4-course prix fixe meals in a former auto garage hidden in an alley in an unexpected area near the DC Convention Center.
And, yes, my friends, they offer the 24-course Journey vegan-style.
Zach and I entered the restaurant through the dirty confines of Blagden Alley and were immediately transformed into a magical land. We came a few minutes early and were immediately seated in the lounge in the front of the restaurant, completely sectioned off from the dining area. Even though we planned to take the full Journey with drink pairings and all, we couldn’t help but be intrigued by the cocktails offered in the lounge. Knowing that Bryan Tetorakis, a famed mixologist in this city, was in charge of the drink list, I just had to try the Mobi – a delightful cocktail that included Plymouth gin and hibiscus.
Soon thereafter, we were escorted through the dining room and seated right next to where RJ Cooper himself was standing. The design of the restaurant is quite astonishing as the 52-seats surround the open kitchen so that the patrons can watch the chefs' and their staff’s every move. Rogue 24 is best described as a well-orchestrated theater performance. RJ, Zach, and I exchanged some entertaining banter as he asked me why the hell I was a vegan, then opted to table the discussion until after I had had several drinks (his idea, not mine). After watching the excitement in the kitchen as they feverishly began preparing each dish, RJ turned to me and said, “Are you ready?” to which I replied an excited, “Yes!” Then, the production began.
Menus were not provided as the element of surprise is as important in the Journey as the food and drink themselves and I must say it was incredibly exciting being served dish after dish with no idea of what was coming next. The menu was divided into six sections of four dishes each. Each dish was not only an amazing piece of visual artwork, it was also spectacularly crafted using gastronomic principles. Zach and I spent the entire time being awed by the complexity of each dish as Chef de Cuisine Ryan Moore, formerly of the minibar, explained each dish. The drinks were equally as impressive as Mixologist Bryan Tetorakis greeted us with explanations of each drink as well. Because of the sheer number of dishes and drinks, I couldn’t possibly post pictures or describe them all so I’ll just take you through a few in The Journey.
In the first section, the cucumber shooter with soft, compressed cucumber wading in cucumber water along with sprouted quinoa and edible flowers was delicately flavored while the teeny, tiny carrots included in the farm-to-table potted vegetable dish were seasoned just right. The drink pairing was a gin and absinthe-based drink called the “corpse reviver.”
The second section featured this amazing dish that consisted of a cold watermelon compress similar to tuna topped with a warm tofu cheese and herbs along with an amazing gazpacho roll with thinly shaved avocado rolled into what appeared to be an upscale take on a mandu roll garnished with cherry tomatoes, flowers, and salt. Other dishes included a fried eggplant with violet mustard and fall risotto made with Farro and nasturtium. The drink pairing was the mizbasho with ginjo and sake. Outstanding!
The third section featured a soy sashimi made of soy sauce and agar agar over rice with avocado. The flavor in this dish was really impressive. Another incredible dish was the cremini “katsu,” which was a potato chip-encrusted cremini mushroom in ketchup. Other dishes included an upscale version of Cracker Jack and a hearts of palm dish. The wine pairing was 2011 Rainer Wess Gruner Veltliner from Austria.
The fourth section featured shashito, which was deep-fried quinoa in an avocado paste with a padron pepper and chili threads. By this point, it had become my favorite dish. The house fried rice was also amazingly delicious with its black puffed rice and carrots. Other dishes included pickled tofu with soy dashi and fennel tomato arepa with black garlic and mustard. The pairing was a white IPA from Anchorage Brewing and despite my usual dislike of beers in general, I thought this one went nicely with the meal, in fact, very nicely.
The fifth section is where it really got complicated. From spaghetti noodles made from sweet potatoes to meatballs made from cacao and pecans to a vegetable shabu shabu, this section was very unique. Perhaps our favorite creation just due to the humorous creativity was the Vegan Turducken. How hilarious is that?! Chef took celery then layered it with pureed carrot and red miso, then stuffed it into an onion to create his version of a vegan turducken. Brilliant! This was paired with a 2011 Sinister Hand wine from Columbia Valley.
Lastly was the dessert course where we enjoyed an absolutely amazing array of desserts like the strawberry balsamic sorbet with pistachios, hemp, citrus, and tangerine lace and another that consisted of frozen coffee, soy milk, and cacao nibs. The final plate was an assortment of small bites that led to a happy ending.
When the chef served the final course, I remarked that I was never going to leave and that we’d like to stay to enjoy the food forever. At that point, Zach informed me that we had been there for five hours to which I replied with surprise, “really?” I had no idea. The dishes kept coming, the staff kept explaining, and I just kept watching the theater. Time flew by as we enjoyed every bit[e] of the 24 courses.
This was a truly amazing experience and one I am tacking onto the one of the best meals and experiences I’ve ever had in my life board. It was like a sensory explosion with each dish being an amazing balance of flavors and each drink being the perfect pairing all while watching the artistry of the chefs in their kitchen performing live. So while in the end the meal was about $500 inclusive of food, drinks, tax, and tips, it was worth every penny. Where else can you go where they’ve spent the week preparing an individual vegan dining experience like this one complete with 24 unique courses? This should be on the vegan foodie traveler’s list of places to visit. Having only served six vegan meals since their opening in July of 2011, the chef told me he’d absolutely love to serve more and I’d love to help him accomplish that so be sure you tell them that I sent you.
In the meantime, I’ll be waiting for their newest venture, Rogue Spirits, to open–-a new bar next door that promises to serve amazing drinks and small plates. If it is anything like Rogue 24, it will be worth the wait.
922 N Street NW (rear)
Washington, DC 20001