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Going Rogue

November 1, 2012

By Judith Mazza, Chargée de Presse, Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C.

Chef R.J. Cooper has always been known as a perfectionist. His culinary vision is exciting and often breaks the rules. When he opened Rogue 24, his restaurant with its entrance off an alley in an offbeat part of northwest Washington, D.C., he said he was “going rogue.”  Indeed, that is what he did when the Chaîne decided to visit.

Whenever we have an event, a few officers and wine committee members go to the restaurant in advance, to decide which wines to pair with the food courses. However, diners at Rogue 24 are typically kept in a kind of playful suspense, not knowing what course is coming next, and not seeing a menu until the end of the meal. As each course is revealed, you see surprised smiles and a sense of wonder. However, for our planning purposes, we needed the menu in advance. The chef sent us a menu, but in true rogue style, it was written somewhat cryptically, which kept our wine committee on their toes. What we experienced is hard to put into words, except to say that every moment was a delicious tour d’force. Both the tasting dinner and the subsequent Chaîne event were over the top, with outstanding food and spot-on wine pairings.

Chef Cooper works in an open kitchen consisting of three cooking “islands” and the diners’ tables are placed around the perimeter of the room. To prevent “traffic jams” and minimize any collisions, all are asked to circumnavigate in a counter-clockwise direction around the room. The islands are well lit, just as one might light a stage. The staff operates like a well-oiled machine, quiet and efficient, while the rest of us, the diners (or audience) sit back and enjoy the show. Canapés or tapas, in this case, delightful one bite wonders, were artfully arranged in tiers, so guests could pick and choose which they wanted. The menu descriptions barely did the flavors justice as each bite created an intense sensation in our mouths as we quaffed Delamotte Brut NV (Champagne, France) during the reception. To simply call the tapas “madal,” “tuna,” “artichoke,” and “gyro” is to greatly under-describe each and the delight they brought.

We took our seats and were served an Aracona egg 67̇° along with Osetra caviar, fennel and migas, which was perfectly paired with Carl von Schubert  Maximin Grunhauser Abtsberg Kabinett 2008 (Mosel, Germany). The Aracona egg yolk was unctuous and the “migas” or crumbs gave it a wonderful contrasting texture. The second course of octopus with white beans was flawless in both taste and texture, and was paired with Sigalas Assyrtiko 2011 (Santorini, Greece). This was followed by the matustake beef head dumpling in a fabulously flavored broth garnished with egg and paired with Louis Jadot Beaune Clos des Ursules 2006 (Burgundy, France) which reflected the deep umami flavor of the dish itself. The delicate pasta of the dumpling had a pleasing toothsome texture that held its own against the beef filling. Interestingly, the next course was swordfish; served medium rare, anointed by a tempura style sea bean and accompanied by olive curls and blood orange essence. The Sequana Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch 2008 (California, Sonoma County, Green Valley, USA) balanced perfectly this dish. We were soon enjoying our last savory course of venison with huckleberry. The Chateau d'Issan 2000 (Margaux, Bordeaux, France) was deeply satisfying and a perfect way to end the savory part of the meal. Our sweet tooth was satisfied by what the menu described as “chocolate/earth textures” but which was a wonderful quenelle of chocolate ice cream with pistachio crumbles. The flavors were intense and compelling and worked well with the New York Malmsey Rare Wine Company NV, (Madeira, Portugal). The tiers which had once held the tapas during our reception were now filled with wonderful small bites of chocolate, marshmallow and macaroons. Chef Cooper calls these “happy endings.”

Vice Conseiller Chef Francois Dionot praised the exciting meal we had just enjoyed. Chef Cooper and his staff received enthusiastic applause in recognition of the care, detail and perfect execution which resulted in one of the most interesting, delicious and intensely flavored meals we have been exposed to. If this is how Chef Cooper goes Rogue, you can believe that we all want to “go rogue” with him and can’t wait for another taste of his culinary genius.

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