Saturday, March 16, 2013

Rogue 24

"An elegant tasting menu experience in a converted garage" is how to sum up what to expect from Rogue 24. The restaurant, tucked into a remodeled garage, is located down an alley near the Convention Center. You've found it when you locate the wooden door with graffiti of a chef's knife over it.  Offering a 24-course Journey; 16-course Progression; or 4-course Prix-Fixe on Tues, Wed, Thu only; plus a Rogue Spirits bar with a bites menu, be prepared to indulge in a well-orchestrated theater performance of food.  Closest Metro is Mt. Vernon Square-Convention Center.

Photo: Washington Post
My view of the open kitchen.
Keith had made reservations well in advance to surprise me for my birthday.  I had no clue where we were going, but soon put two and two together as we exited the Convention Center metro station and started walking north.  After walking through the alley, we entered in to the transformed garage and were immediately seated in the lounge in the front of the restaurant, completely sectioned off from the dining area. Even though he planned for us to take the full Journey with drink pairings and all, he couldn't help but be intrigued by the cocktails offered in the lounge.  Keith ordered a Highball drink made with bourbon, smoked cola, and lime.  The manly cocktail arrived with a large rectangular block of ice and a stainless steel straw.  It was nice to acclimate in the lounge for a few minutes, and let my expectations settle a bit before our Journey began.  Soon thereafter, we were escorted through the dining room and seated at a great table with a perfect view of the open kitchen. The restaurant gives new meaning to the notion of an open kitchen with a theater-in-the-round-style set up in the middle of the industrial-chic dining room. The 52-seats surround the open kitchen in such a close, intimate way that guests can watch the chefs' and their staff's every move.

Being prepared ahead of time, Keith had made arrangements for them to substitute a pescatarian version of the tasting menu for my non-meat eating ways.  Our server confirmed this as he greeted us, and I felt relieved to not have to worry as menus were not provided since the element of surprise is as important in the Journey as the food and drink themselves.  The menu – 24 small courses – is an equally dramatic affair, and I must say it was incredibly exciting being served dish after dish with no idea of what was coming next.  I tried my best to take pictures and notes of each course, but frankly after 4 hours of dining and 6 drink pairings, I may have missed a few, and set aside my "blogger duties" to simply enjoy my birthday dinner with my husband.  Luckily, we were given a copy of our menu with the bill, so I did have a little cheat sheet to help out with this post.  So let's get started...

We began the Journey with a collection of seven small bites, paired with a cocktail made of No 3 Gin, Byrrh, apple, green tea, and saffron entitled Nose Over Tail.  First, a puff pastry filled with hog belly and topped with an apple and smoked maple jelly. While, I wanted to be adventurous and took a small bite, I ended up giving mine to Keith.  He really enjoyed this first bite and found the filling to be quite meaty.  Next, a plate of tiny macarons called gin botanicals filled with smoked trout and caviar, shared with a potato crisp topped with razor clam, bacon, and onion.  The fish macaron was strange and very salty.  The razor clam crisp on the other hand was absolutely delightful with flavors of clam chowder.  Next, we sampled a trio plate of chicken liver-stuffed macarons made from porcini and dusted with tomato powder; a kimchee cracker topped with sesame and bulgogi espuma; and a sunchoke skin topped with truffled and herbed ricotta.  The savory macaron was again a strange combination of salty and sweet.  Keith ate both kimchee crisps with the bulgogi and stated it tasted exactly like the Korean dish, while I found the sunchoke crisp to be overpoweringly salty.  Last of the small bites was a tasty poutine croquette filled with foie gras and potato.  This hot little croquette was our favorite of the small bites and was the perfect segue into the larger dishes.

The eighth course was a bit larger and featured a nice dollop of sea urchin on a dashi custard with cucumber and grapefruit.  This dashi custard was more miso infused than the mind blowing version from Sūna, but I savored it just the same.  The cucumber had a burst of seawater that added the right amount of salt to the dish.  With this next set, we were served a glass of Côté Mas Brut Rosé from France. The champagne really accentuated the delicate sea urchin, and I was getting in to the groove and beginning to enjoy myself.  Following this high note was another favorite of evening, a cold and refreshing dish of shaved celery with dots of ricotta cheese and wasabi "stones."  This palate cleansing dish was so light and impressive with the amount of flavor extracted from the usually water-logged vegetable.  Last in this grouping was turbot with rutabaga, horseradish, Asian pear, lardo, and roe.  The fish was tender and brightened with a little pop of citrus jelly.

The eleventh course was a 67-degree cooked hen egg with garlic threads and chicken skin crumbles. While the bright orange egg looked pretty sitting upon its "nest," the flavor was a bit bland and waxy.  Paired with a pinot grigio, the egg was a bit hard for me to get down, but Keith liked it tremendously and was just proud that I tried it.  Next was a juxtaposition of textures made up from scallop.  Small raw pieces topped with pine nuts, upland cress, malt powder, and shaved dried scallop - like scallop jerky - competed against each other in the mouth.  While the flavors were alright, there was just too much going on in this dish for me to appreciate.  The last course paired with the white wine was another vegetarian friendly dish that topped high on my list: roasted yam with crispy kale, smoked cream cheese, and black walnut.  The earthy flavors really shined and proved to be a satisfying meatless option.

The fourteenth dish featured Bouchot mussels with a potato puree and bits of Benton's ham with sea beans.  Paired with Lagunitas Wilco Tango Foxtrot, this was a modern spin on the classic "mussels with beer."  Continuing on, we eat up lightly fried skate with a red cabbage soup, mustard ice cream, and gelatinous noodle.  The mustard ice cream was peculiar and delicious at the same time, and mixed well with the red cabbage "soup" and tender pieces of fish.  Last in this set was a salad of ox tongue (omitted in my presentation), beet roots, onion, and tarragon puree.  Keith was not crazy about the ox tongue and the pickled beets were mediocre.

We now have moved into the "main" courses of the Journey and for the seventeenth course, we are both presented with lamb collar.  Served with yogurt, broccoli, and radish I am taken aback and question the server, as I have enjoyed my red meat-free menu so far.  Then like a scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I am told "It is ok - it is lamb!"  (In the movie, Toula introduces her non-Greek fiance Ian to her family for the first time. As she explains that he is a vegetarian, her aunt exclaims, "What do you mean he don't eat no meat!? ... Oh that's ok - I make lamb!")  There was minor confusion with the chef - clearly a miscommunication somewhere on their part - that was only a slight hiccup in our so far stellar service.  But they whisked away these plates and soon replaced with a fresh piece of lamb for Keith and a pasta alternative for me with a truffle cream sauce.  The wine paired with this set - a syrah blend from Paso Robles, CA cheekily called Chronic Cellars Sofa King Bueno - was earthy with hints of blackberry and licorice.  The earthiness married well with the next course of mushroom with different accents and textures of the fungi. Another satisfying meat-free option.  Last of the main dishes, Keith enjoyed a piece of elk with barley, huckleberry, chestnut, and sherry dressing.  I eat a similar dish with roasted carrot as the main protein replacement.  The acidity and sweetness of the huckleberry was a nice touch and again tied back to the lovely red wine.

Course number twenty was another palate cleanser to segue us towards the end of the Journey and into the desserts.  The Rogue Ricotta was a light cheese course with shaved fennel, pomegranate seeds, honey, and apple.  Edible flowers were also sprinkled on top, adding to the delicateness of the whipped cheese.  I really adored this dish and found it to have a nice balance of salt and sweet.  Next, we are served a glass of Moscato d'Asti to go with the remainder of our desserts.  The lychee and carrot flavored "shave ice" was a sweet cool treat.  A pudding of banana was strong in flavor and served with chocolate sauce and a parsley powder.  The churro was warm and crispy, made from parsnip and served with a house-made "Nutella" made from Oregon hazelnut.  Lastly, we are presented a box of happy endings featuring a chocolate truffle, guava macaron, coconut meringue, and mint chocolate.

All in all, the long Journey at Rogue 24 was a unique experience with super friendly staff and chefs.  They were all very welcoming which helped make the evening more enjoyable, as it was evident they had a passion for their work.  I appreciate the accommodations for dietary restrictions, which is a huge bonus for tasting menu-restaurants.  A tip to offer for patrons is to not get caught up in counting the number of courses, as it will get overwhelming, and trust that they have perfectly timed and orchestrated your meal.  Also, while I enjoyed the drink pairing, I recommend you skip it and just order your favorite wine or try a cocktail.  The well over $500 price tag is more for the theater experience, and while it would not be a repeat occasion, our dinner at Rogue 24 will still be a memorable one.

Total Rating: 3.95
Food: 4.5, Price: 2, Service: 4.5, Ambience: 4.5, Accessibility: 3.5

What I ate:
gin botanicals
smoked trout, caviar, meringue
-and-
razor clam
bacon, onion, potato

chicken liver
porcini, tomato
 -and-
sunchoke skin
ricotta, herbs, truffle
(kimchee is the third bite in the middle)

poutine
foie gras, potato

sea urchin
dashi, cucumber, grapefruit

celery
seeds, stones, root

turbot
rutabaga, horseradish, Asian pear, lardo, roe

hen egg
garlic threads, chicken skin

scallop
pine nut, upland cress, malt

yam
smoke, cream cheese, black walnut

bouchot mussels
Benton's ham, potato, sea beans

skate
red cabbage, mustard, gelatinous noodle

pasta
cream, truffle

mushroom
accents, textures

carrot
barley, huckleberry, chestnut, sherry

rogue ricotta
fennel, pomegranate, honey, apple

lychee
carrot, snow

banana
chocolate, parsley

churro
parsnip, Oregon hazelnut

happy endings
chocolate truffle, guava macaron, coconut meringue, mint chocolate

Plus Keith ate:
hog belly
apple, smoked maple

kimchee
sesame, bulgogi

ox tongue
beet roots, onion, tarragon

lamb collar
yogurt, broccoli, radish

elk
barley, huckleberry, chestnut, sherry

  Rogue 24 on Urbanspoon

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