Toward the end of his stint at Vidalia, Chef RJ Cooper had jumped into the world of the multi-course “experience” tasting menu with both feet.  His “24″ menu got some great coverage from Tim Carman when he was still at the Washington City Paper, and when news came that his first solo concept would be Rogue 24, a restaurant built around the tasting menu, the buzz started building almost immediately.

We’re just a day away from opening now, and those who’ve had a chance to experience dishes firsthand – either in soft opening service over the weekend or at Cooper’s pop-up test run in New York City – have been raving.  We may not have been so lucky as to try the food yet, but we did get to stop by last Friday as Cooper was putting his team through their paces on a couple of dishes.  We got to see the open kitchen in the center of the room alive with activity, and we can only imagine how much more energy there will be when all the seats are filled, too.

Of course we took some pictures, and we also took the time to chat up sommelier Matthew Carroll about the challenges of creating appropriate pairings for a 24-course tasting menu while we were there.

Photos, conversation and “olive paper” after the jump.

If Rogue 24 is all about “The Journey,” it’s only fitting that your first order of business is finding the place.  Tucked away on Blagden Alley, Rogue 24 is a short walk from the Convention Center but it feels far more isolated.  We entered the alleyway via the 900 block of N Street, NW, and headed south to find the entrance to the former garage that houses Rogue 24.  There’s no sign out front, but the chef’s knife graffiti over the door should be a giveaway.

Just inside the door is a small lounge area salon where drop-ins can enjoy cocktails from Derek Brown’s beverage menu and sample some of the dishes from the kitchen without committing to the full 16- or 24-course experience.  Like the rest of the space, it has a studiously unfinished look to it, with exposed brick walls and a stain-sealed floor.  It’s not the kind of place where you’d settle in for the evening, but I expect the combination of the drinks and the environment will turn this into a scene soon enough.

Behind the host stand is one of two rotary evaporators (rotovap) that serves to remind of just what kind of experience diners are in for.  We asked about the rotovap’s function and were told that it was for distillations of flavor and aroma.  Apparently, the machine works by lowering air pressure above a liquid, encouraging it to evaporate at a lower temperature than usual.  It can then be collected and infused into dishes and cocktails to add unexpected tastes and scents.

A lot of the press about Rogue 24 to date has focused (understandably) on the food.  But we had a chance to chat with Matthew Carroll, whose job it is to take Chef Cooper’s creations and match them up with appropriate beverage pairings.  Carroll has served previously as sommelier at the Inn at Little Washington and 2941, and he was a competitor for the title of Best Sommelier in America earlier this year.  Here at Rogue 24, his role will expand significantly.

Photo credit: Greg Powers

“I’m always looking for the killer pairing,” said Matthew, as we watched Chef Cooper and his team work.  In this case, Carroll won’t be limited to just wines.  He’ll be able to draw from Derek Brown’s cocktail program as well as “some cool beers and ciders to pair with desserts and the later courses.”  The trick, he said, is to find beverages that can transition from one course to the next.  The pairing includes eight drinks over the course of the meal, so each one has to do triple-duty to match up with the twenty-four food courses.

Chef Cooper has said in interviews that his vision for Rogue 24 is an experience where diners are free to interact with the men and women making their food.  He welcomes questions, even during preparation.  We’re looking forward to the opportunity, though there will certainly be times when the technical demands of the menu will have to take precedence.  While we were watching the dry run last week, a missing ingredient had Chef Cooper shouting for “olive paper” multiple times – the kind of live-action kitchen experience that diners are often completely removed from.

Reservations for opening week are already completely booked, but you can still book tables throughout August <EDIT 12:39 – and beyond!  Reservations are currently available for upcoming months until they fill up significantly> by calling up to a month in advance.  The number is (202) 408-9724, and the voice on the other end of the line will be familiar to anyone who was ever fortunate enough to score a minibar reservation.  It should be easier to get to know her here at Rogue 24…but not much.

Rogue 24
922 N Street, NW Rear
Blagden Alley
Washington, DC
Rogue 24 on Urbanspoon