Young and Hungry

R.J. Cooper to Open an Alleyway, All-Tasting Menu Restaurant in Mount Vernon Square

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Cooper in the alley that will be the location of his first restaurant

When R.J.Cooper split from Vidalia earlier this year, the chef had his sights set on opening a place called Pigtails, a sly reference to his twin daughters and his love of all things pork. But an investor changed his  mind.

"I had an investor that called me and said, 'I would love for you to do '24' first," Cooper told me this morning over the phone. "24," of course, is a reference to the Beard Award-winning chef's former tasting menu at Vidalia, which was a tour-de-force of technique, cooking philosophy, and sheer kitchen creativity.

Cooper couldn't say no to found money, so he's just signed a lease to open his first restaurant, Rogue 24, a planned 52-seat operation dedicated exclusively to his 24 course tasting menu.  The chef is aiming for a winter 2011 opening date for the Mount Vernon Square establishment, which will instantly become one of a select handful of D.C. restaurants to focus only on tasting menus, along with José Andrés' minibar and Johnny Monis' Komi.

But the concept is not the only unique aspect here. So is the space and the attitude behind Rogue 24.

Rogue 24 will be located in an alley — Blagden Alley to be specific — in a 2,600-square-foot space that used to be an auto body shop connected to a car dealership. Cooper wanted a space that was urban and arty and gritty and not too formal.

"You can come in wearing a tuxedo or you can come in wearing a pair of khaki shorts," Cooper says. Regardless of which option, "you can enjoy it the same way."

The open kitchen at Rogue 24 will be located in the center of the room, surrounded by tables and chairs. There will be no formal bar. The cocktails, like the food, will be prepared in the diners' presence, sometimes right at the table. "We want everybody to...see and feel the experience," Cooper says.

It's one of his pet peeves about fine-dining: The diners never get to interact with the people who make the food and drinks. Rogue 24 will be a much more interactive experience, Cooper promises. It will even be a place for non-drinkers. One of the tasting menu options, the chef says, will include non-alcoholic drink pairings.

Rogue 24 is "not conventional, which is what I wanted to do first," says Cooper. He's not given up on Pigtails, either. He plans to open the casual restaurant in a nearby space, transforming this arty alley into what could become one of D.C.'s top food destinations.

Full draft press release is below:

Chef RJ Cooper will open his first independent project, Rogue 24, in the Mount Vernon Square neighborhood of Washington, DC. Projecting a winter, 2011 opening, Rogue 24 will be located in Blagden Alley at 1234 9th St., NW.

Executive chef/ owner RJ Cooper, a seasoned veteran chef and James Beard Award winner, is thrilled to bring this landmark restaurant to the developing neighborhood of Mount Vernon Square in Northwest Washington, DC. The 2,600 square- foot restaurant will be tucked away in one of the vacant buildings in Blagden Alley, currently a trendy alley that houses experimental art exhibits.

Blagden Alley, located directly west of the Washington, DC Convention Center, is in engaging new epicenter of revitalization. The project leadership of Norman Jamal of Douglas Development has lead a wave of recent development, from multi-million dollar condominiums to established art galleries, as well as a burgeoning social scene of coffee houses, bars and restaurants. This recent rehabilitation makes the neighborhood an excellent locale for the first fine dining restaurant in Blagden Alley.

“The space is a perfect fit for the intimate, yet edgy experience of Rogue 24,” says Cooper of the Blagden Alley location. “I look forward to joining the current and future independent retailers, artists and residents alike in developing this section of Mount Vernon Square as a distinct destination neighborhood.”

Celebrating Cooper’s stylized urban fine-dining cuisine, Rogue 24 will exclusively offer an interactive 24-course tasting menu. Guests will be served a progression of small dishes that excite the senses, tantalize the palate, and awaken curiosity. The multi-course meal will offer a place at the table where guests can dig deep into a culinary team’s philosophy: exploring their suppliers, cooking techniques and sources of inspiration.

Rogue 24 will provide an effortless space for the diner to enjoy the imagination of Cooper’s menu. The avant-garde beverage program will house a beverage director that will serve as both sommelier and mixologist and will prepare all beverages at a tableside cart, providing innovative pairings that will stimulate the entire experience. 8 beverage (a combination of wine, cocktails and beer) pairings will be offered throughout the 24- course meal.

“It is my vision that Rogue 24 will provide an emotional experience. That is what creates memorable meals—more than the food, the wine, and the service, the overall culture of the restaurant must evoke emotions in its guests.”

Working alongside Cooper, Harper McClure will serve as chef de cuisine. McClure hails from Atlanta’s renowned Bacchanalia restaurant and previously worked with Cooper at Vidalia as his sous chef for nearly five years. The two chefs look forward to reuniting for this groundbreaking new project.

###

Situated in the center of the 52-seat dining room, the state-of-the-art kitchen will showcase Cooper’s creativity and desire to interact with guests. This architectural design will allow every guest to have an individual chef’s table experience. Cooper has enlisted architects Brian Miller of edit and Lauren Winter of Winter Architecture, the famed duo behind Washington, DC’s most creative and functional spaces including The Gibson, U Street Music Hall and Dickson Wine Bar, to execute this vision.

Rogue 24 will be open for one dinner seating Tuesday-Thursday two dinner seatings Friday and Saturday evenings. The fixed menu price is $130, $140 for non-alcoholic beverage pairings and $170 for alcoholic beverage pairings.

About Chef RJ Cooper and The Kid Can Cook, LLC

Chef RJ Cooper’s Rogue 24 will be the first of several restaurants as part of his and wife Judy Cooper’s umbrella restaurant group, The Kid Can Cook, LLC. Rogue 24 will be followed by a variety of projects, including a more casual concept, Pigtails, to open in Washington, DC. Cooper is a seasoned veteran chef who has worked at some of the most prestigious restaurants in the nation, and has served as an integral part of the development in Washington, DC’s fine-dining culture. Notable accolades include the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic in 2007, as well as recognition from starchefs.com, as the 2006 Rising Star Chef. Cooper also works with the national non-profit organization Share Our Strength®, as a longtime advocate in the fight against childhood hunger. Cooper is the Chair of Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation’s® National Culinary Council, is the founder of Share Our Strength’s Chefs on Bikes program and in 2008 was recognized with Share Our Strength’s Leadership Award for Chef of the Year. Chef Cooper also serves on the Advisory Board of the startup, DC-based non-profit organization Chefs as Parents that is working to transform DC-public school nutrition programs.

  • six2blue

    wow.

    did you just print someone's press release in it's entirety?

    nice reporting - way to stay objective.

  • http://www.ohsoboring.com Matt T

    The part I'm most happy about is "non-alcoholic beverage pairings". As a non-drinker, I'm always annoyed that most chefs seem to ignore about a fifth of the world when it comes to beverage pairings with tasting menus. (Sure, most of those are Muslims, but there are some like me that choose not to drink alcohol.)

  • Big Lobstah

    Bryon Brown of Artisa Kitchen has been offering a 12 course tasting menu for the past few months.

  • Petey Khabbiinski

    Yo, six2blue - they're not reporting the controversial suberterfuge that is "Ground Zero Mosque" - this is a restaurant with a cool concept with a well-respected chef - where is the hard hitting angle exist for you, cub reporter Jimmy Olson. I only mourn the loss of whichever it is I am sure were colorful days from other grand enterprises - Blagden Alley - you've come a long way, Baby! One thing is fo-shizzle - the maitre'd better be spot on.

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  • six2blue

    cute joke petey - have fun in gym class!
    -------------------------
    reporting vs advertising - they're 2 different things.

    tim's job as a critic is, at the very least, to state his opinion. of course, he's reporting on the food world in DC - that entails *some* aspects of reporting.

    you might consider also, how much money is spent on restaurant advertising in DC. not a small amount.

    not to over analyze either topic... but tim's inclusion of an entire press release written by the restaurant he's covering is at best, lazy; worst, biased.

  • Tim Carman

    six2blue,

    Let me see if I have this correct:

    1. You are taking an anonymous pot shot.

    2. You skipped right over the reported material at the top of the blog item, including the linked background material which I have also reported and offered critical opinions on, pro and con.

    3. You have focused on a press released attached at the bottom for further background on the new opening. A press release that is clearly labeled as a "draft press release."

    4. You imply, rather broadly and without any evidence (i.e. reporting), that advertising from this chef and/or restaurant is tied to my reporting this on the blog.

    5. You feel this is ample evidence to throw around words like "lazy" and "biased."

    You'll forgive me if I find your commentary both lazy and uninformed.

  • Keith B

    Uh, re: #1, Tim, this is the internet. I think you've been using it for a while. How does using any particular screen name or a real name matter again? Were you going to look him up in the phone book?

  • six2blue

    tim -

    1) wrong.
    i made an observation; got shelled for it; and explained.

    2) wrong.
    i read it.

    3) right!
    i am discussing the press release.

    4) wrong.
    if the implication you read was THAT broad, as you indicate - perhaps it wasn't there.
    you saw what i wrote - my implication was that these guys just got a free advertisement written by themselves. good for them!
    Please accept a sincere and honest apology if you thought I was implying payola.

    5a) "lazy" right!
    421 words written by you vs. 758 by their PR guy. so, yeah. (you pressed the point)
    5b) "biased" right!
    when you invite all of the surrounding businesses to submit for print 758-word press releases written by their PR guys we can revisit this.

    have a nice day.

  • Tim Carman

    Keith B.,

    A real name is always important. When you attach a real name to a comment, you are suddenly someone with a past, maybe friends in the business, perhaps even someone with potential grudges, biases, conflicts of interest, any number of things that may influence commentary. Unless we know who you are, we can never know. (And even with a name, we might not know.) Of course, you could be an impartial observer, too. But even if you are an impartial observer, attaching your name to a post means you can be held accountable for your comments. You might use a more civil tone with your own name attached, too. There's really no downside, as far as I can see, to having more transparency in comments.

    six2blue,

    You're entitled to your opinion, though I strongly disagree with your conclusions. It pains me that you think so poorly of my effort here.

    -Tim

  • Chris

    He's posted press releases here before. It's just an FYI for people who are interested in the restaurants/chefs' spin on their projects. If you're not, fine, but this is regularly done on many other sites. Carman clearly labeled it as what it is, unlike the bloggers/writers who simply pull press release language and description without noting that the release was the source. Check a few things that have come out about this Cooper project on other sites for prime examples.

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  • http://www.suburbanfoodnerd.com SuburbanFoodNerd

    The concept of Rogue 24 sounds really intriguing, and I am excited to see another tasting menu coming to the area! I really like the contrast between the polish of the tasting menu concept and the unfinished nature dining in an alley. Should be interesting!

  • Keith B

    We'll just have to agree to disagree about handles then, Tim. I get that maybe if you have something to lose (reputation, business, friends, etc) by posting rudely, requiring real names might moderate that.

    But take your position as a food critic; (pseudo-)anonymity has always been a key component of the trust the reader puts in your reviews. If every time you went to a restaurant you announced to them beforehand that "Tim Carman, esteemed food critic would like a dinner reservation at 7", your readers would have a hard time believing that your identity didn't influence the restaurant's treatment of you.

    Extend that to comments; there are many things people can ONLY say when anonymity makes them free from retribution from bosses, peers, investors, customers or internet lynch mobs (yo, former The Sexist readers!). How often do journalists (yourself included) cite sources that "wish to remain anonymous"?

    I think using names here, whether made up, real or obscured at least lets you attribute the comments to a particular person, which achieves nearly everything you asked for in your reply. You don't need to know someone's real name to know that they have biases, grudges, friends or enemies here! The only time using your real name might matter would be to speak on behalf of a group of organization which you're a member of; I assume any chefs that comment here speak on behalf of their restaurants (implicitly or explicitly). /rant

  • Keith B

    SuburbanFoodNerd, I agree it's nice to see fine dining move into an area with limited and frankly boring eateries, but I'll say straight up I'm not into the "pseudo-slumming for haute cuisine" concept. At those prices, and with unreliable walk-in traffic, Cooper (and his investors) are going to need to keep the hype up to keep diners coming in. 50 seats sounds pretty optimistic once the novelty wears off. Sorry to be a hater, but this really sounds like another flight-of-fancy concept restaurant that will evaporate after a year or two (unless profits from their other ventures let them indulge in operating this place).

  • CTR

    There is a huge difference between anonymnity as a diner assessing a restaurant and anonymity as a commenter when you trash/praise that restaurant. Tim, like other critics in this town, puts his real name on his opinions.

  • Keith B

    "Tim Carman" could sign all his reviews "Roger Troutman" for all anyone cared, as long as he was consistent. Reputation and trust are built on the identity, as far as I'm concerned here.

  • RJ Cooper

    If I may Keith B.

    We aren't slumming!!!We are helping revitalize and develop a part of town with a rich history in DC. When Komi went into 17th street, an old brown stone once owned by Reberto Donna, was that considered slumming? Or perhaps when Derek and Tom Brown decided to open on 10th, a kick ass bar, were they slumming or a cult hero Tom Powers, whom we will be neighbors,or when Rays went into the district. Chef Powers was the first on the block with a fine dining restaurant in that part of the hood. And don't forget all, that Rupert's a restaurant that was before its time, was on the 10th street side for years. So DC cant have a fine dining restaurant in a part of the city that is in the process of revitalization and wants and needs places that we are opening? Hmmm the trends of urban dynamics is being driven by an open mind and what it takes is open minded support of the people whom live in the District to make this city great. Why this neighborhood? Its Urban Raw Unrefined ready to jump out of the cake like the U street corridor.

    We did a long search for the right space over a year and we fell in love with the Alley as an oasis in the Urban City of Washington DC

  • Richard

    Perhaps an anger management class would help a couple of posters. Or perhaps it's the result of a very, very long hot summer. :-)

  • Keith B

    I'm not saying you can't have fine dining in DC, or that it's wrong to redevelop an undeserved neighborhood. But when you call the experience "Urban Raw Unrefined", that's sums up my idea of slumming. Ray's East doesn't sell itself as "fine steaks on a crappy block", because that's not what he's going for. Rays is a solid restaurant, with good prices, in a place that lacked both.

    Also, your English is terrible, and parts of your rant incoherent. Please stick to cooking.

  • Tim Carman

    Keith B,

    Listen, I welcome all sorts of commentary on this blog, but I must insist that you refrain from telling readers that they don't have the necessary communication skills to comment. If proper grammar and the ability to think beyond one's own navel were a prerequisite for public commentary, then this would be a rather lonely blog.

    Your last line smacks too much of anti-immigration rhetoric for my tastes. Or, perhaps more to the point, anti-working man/blue collar rhetoric. I don't do a lot of moderating on this blog, even though it's my prerogative, but I will delete hateful commentary when I see it. This comes close to it.

    -Tim

  • Keith B

    I'm sorry Tim, I suppose "RJ" could be using his initials like many immigrants from India and Pakistan who think we will be intimidated by long names, but I suspect he's just a normal white 'merican guy who should probably have his business PR handled by a person who won't make him come off as a buffoon shouting buzzwords and name-dropping other chefs. Whoever wrote his press release for him was obviously to the task.

  • Keith B

    Haha, now I look like the inept word-garbler. But to my point, RJ should read the follow-up on the Blue Ridge in Glover Park experience if he doesn't want his new place to follow the same path and turn his preemptively titled landmark restaurant into a landmark flop. Or whatever, spend that "found money", who cares.

  • RJ Cooper

    Keith.

    It is apparent to me, Tim and the readers that you are what they say a "hater". Your opinion with out any recollection of my business model mean zero. I can talk all day about what we are going to do and we will do it without failure. We deliver a product that is worth it.

    And if you don't like how I write or want to get into semantics about education, Ill give you one. Spend some time in the shoes of a chef, cook, restaurateur.

    As well, your comparisons to other restaurants are not fair to the owners and staff. We are a different model.

    Please embrace what we are doing and what changes are coming to this city. Slumming is urban raw and refined then you really have a completely closed mind and outlook on life.

  • Keith B

    If I'm a hater, I'm a hater on poorly thought-out ideas. If you last 9 months in Mt. V Square I'll be happy to dine at your place with the 'other. But don't talk like you're "doing it for the hood" because (1) that area ISN'T the hood, and (2) if it is, how many of the locals from McCullough / Paradise Gardens do you think will be dropping by for a $170 meal?

    As well, your comparisons to other restaurants are not fair to the owners and staff. We are a different model.

    Now are you high, or is this really your PR person replying? In your first post YOU compared your endeavor to FIVE other restaurants. And don't even bring up Tim's opinion, it's pretty obvious from this blog's coverage of you that you guys are pals (which is somewhat slimy for a food critic to be so blatant about, but can't be helped 'cuz after all he's entitled to friends too).

  • Richard

    Dear Keith B.(as in Brilliant),

    Your posts have become increasingly weird. I suspect that you have lost most of your audience.

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  • http://digg.com Chang Neyer

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