Thursday, March 8, 2012

Oot and Aboot in DC: Rogue Sessions With Jen Caroll

This past Saturday, Liz and I splurged on a dinner reservation at Rogue24, enticed by the Jen Carroll edition of the Rogue Sessions concept that has been getting a lot of presumably well-deserved hype around DC the past several weeks.

Rogue24 is one of those restaurants that has a ridiculous level of cool factor associated with it.  It doesn't even have a proper storefront.  The restaurant is located down an alley off of 9th St. near the Convention Center, giving it the speakeasy feel that Liz and I both love.

The host stand operation is seamless.  No book, no list - When we walked up to the Maitre D' and dropped our names, he simply said "Of course" as if he'd had the reservation list committed to memory and had been waiting for us to arrive all night.  Very slick...

The kitchen at Rogue24 is 100% open, and right in the middle of the restaurant, giving every table a view behind-the-scenes.  We managed to land a corner table with a great line of sight of pretty much the entire place, which was awesome.  The music is lively but not overly loud, everybody there is there because they are really into food which led to a great vibe, and the service is impeccable.  Rogue24 employs what seems like an entire squadron of expeditors in order to make sure that your meal is paced appropriately.  At the outset of the meal, we provided a reminder to our waiter that Liz needed to be gluten-free, but I suspect that they probably didn't need the reminder.

But enough of that - onto the food:

Course #1: Snacks: Cauliflower Cube, Pizza Paper, Kimchi Kracklin'
I didn't get the Cauliflower Cube into the photo, because I ate it immediately. 
After getting started with a couple of glasses of white wine (a really good Burgundy from a winery whose name escapes me now...) we settled in to our first course of the evening.

One of the rules of the ultra-modern tasting dinner, is that the first course has to be a technical showcase of the restaurant's 133t culinary skillz, and Rogue24 is no exception.

The cauliflower cube was like a cute little gelatinized lozenge of concentrated, pureed, cauliflower and quite delicious.  For me though, it paled in comparison to the Pizza Paper, which was one of the top three morsels of the evening.  The crust was basically an ultra thin tomato cracker, topped with bits of cheese and basil.  Think of it as an entire pizza, shrunk down and concentrated into a one-bite cracker.  In the Isaac Asmiov version of the future (you know, the Utopian one...) this is what people eat in space.

The Pizza Paper was an impossible act to follow, and the Kimchi Kracklin' suffered by comparison.  It was alright, but the least memorable of the three snacks by a long way.

Course #2: Oyster w/ Herb Mignonette

A very good oyster, and one of the best mignonettes I've had.  But it was still a raw oyster with mignonette, much like others I've had at other really good restaurants.

Course #3: Beet Salad w/ Lemon & Fennel(?) Mousse

I wish I had been able to take a good photo of this, as it was a beautifully plated dish.  Liz remarked that it reminded her of something that might have come from Bryan Voltaggio's repetoire.  The mousse that was served as a dressing was the best part of the dish, but by and large, this dish came across to me as an exercise in very pretty plating more than anything else.

Course #4: On The Sea Floor - Uni, Seaweed, Squid Ink "Lava Rocks", Salt Foam

This is the point where the menu started to ramp up.  I am not a huge fan of Uni.  I have problems with the texture (not quite solid, not quite liquid), and the flavour (if I wanted to eat/drink a mouthful of semi-solid seawater, I'd go to the beach and do it).  When Liz and I went to Minibar, the Uni dish there (served in a snifter with hibiscus foam) was the one dish I really did not enjoy.

And yet - I really liked this dish.  The seaweed added just enough texture and additional flavour to round out the dish for me and make it enjoyable.  Liz loves any dish that reminds her of the ocean, and this dish certainly did that in a big way.

Course #5: Seared Tuna w/ Passionfruit Puree

The one downside to these tasting dinners is that you never get enough of your favourite dishes, and this was mine.  Jen Carroll's Le Bernardin background was totally in effect here.  I've eaten a lot of tuna dishes at a lot of restaurants and this is up there with the best of them.  Liz on the other hand, thought that the passionfruit puree overpowered the tuna.

Course #6: Grilled Octopus, Octopus Salami, Crispy Eggplant and Chickpeas

Liz and I have welcomed the recent spate of grilled octopus on restaurant menus, with Estadio in DC, and Enoteca Sociale in Toronto having the two best that we've tried.  Rogue24 fell a bit short with their grilled octopus (it was good, but not great), but the octopus salami on this dish was revelatory.  If they had skipped the grilled octopus and given me 3 more slices of the salami, this would have been one of the best dishes of the evening

Course #7: Black Cod w/ Carrot and Sambal Purees

A variation on the miso-steeped black cod dish immortalized by Nobu is pretty much a tasting menu staple these days, and Jen Carroll's Rogue24 edition of the dish was excellent.  The carrot and sambal purees were best when combined, as the carrot puree on its own was a touch sweet.

Course #8: Pickled Mackerel w/ Blackcurrent Puree, Pickles, Cold Duckfat Mashed Potato

You know I love all things Swedish, and this dish totally took me back to Sweden.  Skol!

Course #9a (Gluten-Free Edition): "Fried Rice"

And here we have our first gluten-free modification of the evening.  A "fried rice" of sorts, which seemed more like a papri chaat-like puffed grain mix seasoned with sesame oil.  It was tasty, but not nearly as tasty as:

Course #9b: Ravioli w/ Chestnut Sauce

This dish was a technical survey of different ways to deliver the flavour of chestnut: via the ravioli dough, the filling, the sauce, and the crumbled up bits of chestnut garnish.  And I happen to love chestnut.  Like the seared tuna, this is a dish I was sad to only get one of...

Course #10: Smoked Trout w/ Deconstructed Hard-Boiled Egg

A perfect little quenelle of smoked trout flanked by little grains of egg white on one side, and little grains of yolk on the other.  A tasty dish, but we already had our trip to Scandinavia two courses ago, didn't we?

People-Watching Interlude:

50-ish couple at a nearby table... The gentleman was rather undistinguished, but his wife had had enough plastic surgery that she had reached "uncanny valley" levels of not-quite-rightness.  Liz was the first to notice and pointed her out to me at which point I wondered if the zombie apocalypse had begun.  Seriously, it was like looking at a poor man's Joan Rivers.  She seemed to be enjoying herself though, and I'm sure she would have been smiling if the botox hadn't taken away her ability to make a facial expression...

Course #11: Roe and Bottarga in Dashi, with... some other stuff...

Another edge-of-the-envelope ingredient for me here.  Bottarga is powerful stuff, and not one of my favourites.  But as with the uni, Rogue24 made it work for me.  I don't think a bottarga dish can ever be a favourite of mine, but I'll say that if this dish ever turned up in front of me again, I would be happy to eat it.

Course #12: Escolar w/ Blood Orange Nage, and Olive Cracker

Liz is still talking about this dish.  Of all the dishes we had, this one probably did the best job of melding together big notes of salty, sour, and sweet onto one plate.  Another one that I would happily have doubled-up on.  This course marked the end of our White Wine dishes

Wine-Related Interlude:

The red wine that we switched to was an Italian Pinot Noir (I think Saracco was the name of the winery).  It was fantastic.

Course #13: Rabbit w/ Squash

I enjoy eating game dishes at restaurants, and over the years, I've had a disproportionate number of sub-par rabbit dishes.  This however, was probably the best rabbit dish I ever had.  And I wish I paid more attention while I was eating it so I could break down the flavours and the experience better, but the honest truth is that I basically just wolfed this one down as it was so darn tasty.

Course #14: Ox Tongue w/ Sourdough Bread Puree and Jam

When this plate showed up, with a little brown cube of meat on it, my first thought was "this has to be some kind of organ meat, right?"  Upon hearing that it was tongue, I was maybe a touch disappointed that it wasn't anything more challenging (what does it say that tongue is now a relatively pedestrian cut of meat for me?).  The cube of tongue was impossibly tender and really delicious.  The jam-like condiment that was served on the side was quite a bit too sweet though.

Course #15: Carrot Salad w/ Green Goddess Ice Cream

I have to be honest - before this dish, I had no idea what Green Goddess dressing even was.  So now that I've had an haute cuisine version of it in ice cream form I probably can't ever have it again...

Course #16: Pork Belly w/ Cabbage Puree and Caviar

When you're eating your way through 20+ courses of tasting menu, not everything is going to be a hit.  Liz and I have always had a dish or two that we didn't enjoy at past tasting dinners, and for me, this was the big miss of the night.

The pork was too salty, the cabbage puree too bitter, and in general, the whole plate was just screaming for a little hit of acid.  No, not that kind of acid... just a squeeze of citrus, or something like that... you know, something to cut through the thick cloud of savoury that was this dish.  

Course #17: Shaved Foie Gras w/ Sweet/Savoury Meringues

The foie gras was a nice comback after the pork belly.  Liz wasn't thrilled with the shavings - she likes her foie served in big slabs, but I thought it worked exceedingly well.  Hard to go wrong with the foie...

Course #18: Escargot w/ Trumpet Mushrooms and Brown Butter Foam

Earthiest. Dish. Ever.  Just as the ravioli dish was a display of how to deliver the flavour of chestnut, this dish was designed to blow out that part of your palate that tastes earthiness.  The only way this dish could have been more earthy would have been to actually put bits of dirt on the plate.  It was that earthy.

This is one of those dishes that you would never want to eat on its own, but as part of a tasting menu, is so interesting, and makes you think so much about what you're eating that it becomes instantly memorable.  From now on, whenever I have a dish that I want to describe as earthy, this dish will the yardstick by which I measure that.

Course #19: Blue Cheese w/ Date Leather

The cheese was a little too strong for me, and could have used more date leather to balance it out.

Course #20a (Gluten-Free Edition): PB&J

Our second gluten-free variation, a deconstructed take on a PB&J dessert.  Tasty stuff, and a nice break from the back-to-back funk-fest of escargot and blue cheese.

Course #20b: Sponge Cake w/ Preserved Kumquats

I love orange marmalade, and the preserved kumquats in this dish were basically orange marmalade on steroids.  I might need to try making that at home sometime...

Course #21: Flourless Chocolate Cake

This was good, but a bit dull compared to many of the other courses that preceded it. 

Course #22: Candy Plate

As with Course #1, this last plate was a technical demonstration of Rogue24s mad skillz.  The little cube there is a blackcurrent candy, which tasted delightfully old school.  Kinda like a fancy version of something my aunt would keep in her purse to nibble on while sitting in traffic.  The round truffle-looking thing, is exactly that - a chocolate truffle.  Also delicious and very chocolatey.

But the star of this plate is that little white meringue in the middle.  Don't ask me how, but that thing dissolved on my tongue into a root beer float.  Phenomenal.  I really wish they'd just given me a plate of those for dessert.  It was that good.

The last little, glassy-looking disc was a house-made peppermint candy that we used as a palate cleanser as we left the restaurant and walked back out into the alley

Bottom Line:

Tasting dinners like this aren't for everyone.  A meal as experimental and as varied as this isn't likely to be the best meal you've ever had - There will dishes you love and dishes you don't.  If you're someone who wants to maximize the value of every food dollar you spend, then you're probably better off going somewhere else.

But Liz and I don't go to these to maximize value - We're there to maximize fun and to be test subjects for innovative chefs.  And if that's what you're after, I can't recommend Rogue24 highly enough.  It's a great space, with a great staff, and very cool food.

No comments:

Post a Comment