By Nina Fedrizzi
August 09, 2011

Last month saw the opening of Rogue 24, a new restaurant by James Beard Award-winning chef RJ Cooper, in Washington D.C. Chef Cooper, previously the chef de cuisine at D.C.’s acclaimed Vidalia, was inspired to create his own restaurant concept after “going rogue” at his former post—creating a new, 24-course tasting menu for Vidalia diners.

Rogue 24’s 16- or 24-course menus feature dishes like “crunch” (with dehydrated vegetable chips and green goddess dressing sorbet) and “green tiger tomato” (with ricotta, apple, and basil blossoms). True to its name, the restaurant is a departure from the white-tablecloth formality often associated with fine dining venues. In addition to wine pairings (by sommelier Matthew Carroll), mixologist Derek Brown will offer cocktail pairings with every third course on the menu. Examples include a Southern-themed shrimp and grits dish paired alongside a distilled mint julep, and Osetra caviar with cucumber and crème fraiche, paired with a zesty Holland House cocktail (made with Dutch gin and lemon).

I had a chance to sample Rogue’s wares this spring at its pop-up run at New York’s Limited Time Only (LTO), where chefs, like Cooper, can preview restaurant concepts and menus in front of a discerning Manhattan audience. Though Cooper balks at categorizing his cooking as molecular gastronomy, dinner did, at times, feel a bit like a chemistry experiment. Cooper and guest mixologist, Gina Chersevani, occasionally punctuated the conversation with lines like, “we’re mad scientists down there,” “how was the liquid chicken?” and “I just invented gin paper!” Naturally, gin paper became the catalyst for a lengthy discussion on the benefits (and drawbacks) of edible booze cocktail menus.

RJ Cooper’s cooking was exciting and inventive, from a silky, brine-infused sea urchin dish (pictured above) to rustic headcheese, punctuated with mustard seed. Pastry chef Chris Ford’s texturally puzzling (and delicious) sorbet dish called, “Tennessee,” (pictured below)—which includes a mystery chocolate ingredient known as “soil”—was the perfect way to close the meal.

With paired cocktails, Rogue 24’s eponymous tasting menu costs $175 per head (the 16-course retails for $145). Fine dining restaurants have historically required guests to come with their own (proverbial) silver spoon—or at least a burning passion for haute cuisine. Rogue’s low-key approach to high-end cooking may entice a third category: the rebel.

Rogue 24
922 N St. NW, Washington D.C.; 202/408-9724; dinner for two from $290.

Nina Fedrizzi is an editorial assistant at Travel + Leisure.