Weird Sh*t I Ate at the Rogue Sessions

Every Wednesday night for the past nine weeks, I’ve been eating and Tweeting at Rogue 24 to cover the Rogue Sessions. Now that the series is over, I’m having a little separation anxiety. I miss the action, the ambiance, the visiting chefs, and the in-house team. Most of all, I miss the food. There were numerous unforgettable dishes and one meal-of-a-lifetime.

Foie gras, oysters, and pork were popular proteins, while winter vegetables like potatoes squash were the most popular produce. But chefs oftentimes put out dishes that showcased odder foodstuffs that you won’t find at your local Whole Foods. Sometimes it wasn’t that the ingredients were that eccentric, it’s that they were used in truly unexpected ways. Just so I can appreciate these fantastical foods one more time, here’s look back at the weirdest sh*t I ate at the Rogue Sessions.

Bryan Voltaggio

Oyster root/quince/country ham/almonds

The first look at this plate made me believe that I’d been served a small log camouflaged by a trio of uneven triangles of salted country ham. The “wood” is actually a slightly spongy oyster root, which possesses a lightly earth tone well offset by the slivers of pork.

Tim Byres

Oyster/scampi butter/ash salsa

A single Rappahannock oyster was grilled open then topped with delightfully smoky ash salsa and a chorizo breadcrumb that had a tingly black pepper finish. Byres told me that he makes this signature salsa with some of the fine particulate leftover after a long barbecuing session. I had never looked at ash as anything more than compost, but Byres opened my eyes.

Spike Gjerde

Hog jowl on the bone/pickled mustard seeds

A stripped bare jawbone was decorated with two rolling ribbons of pink and white cured hog jowl and a tiny mound of pickled mustard seeds. This playful jaw-on-jaw dish was skullinary perfection.

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Inside Rogue Sessions: John Currence

John Currence calls himself the Big Bad Chef, which makes him sound like a fairy tale villain. Though the three little piggies – and any other tasty livestock that get in his way – have good reason to worry, Currence really only wants to blow away peoples’ preconceptions of Southern cooking. Since opening City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi in 1992, he has earned a stream of accolades – including a James Beard Award – for his soulful and artful exploration of cuisine rooted below the Mason-Dixon Line.

For my sixth Rogue Session, I enjoyed all of Currence’s courses, as well as some new dishes that the still-absent-but-always-working Cooper debuted. Fantastically epic, it nonetheless flew by. A table full of charming conversationalists and eight drink pairings can do that.

1st course

Poulet rouge/rillettes/pickled peach

Before anyone takes a single bite, cheftender Bryan Tetorakis opens the proceedings by putting down a small bottle and a shot glass in front of each of us. This non-alcoholic aperitif is his take on the Boilermaker, so you pour the lemon- and maple-infused barley water into the glass then take it down in a single gulp. At the end, you’re rewarded with a whiskey-scented sphere that pops with a gush. This is followed by a fried square of heritage breed French chicken offset by a sweet and vinegary pickled peach compote that runs down the center like an orange mohawk.

***2nd course

Celery velouté/Georgia pecan/bourbon dates

The first of several pleasant surprises of the evening. The nuts add a pleasant textural contrast, while the bourbon-soaked dates add a spot of sweetness. In the end though, it’s the flavor of the celery – usually so understated – that makes this dish a winner and sends us all to the bottom of our bowls with a clatter of spoons on porcelain.

3rd course

Oyster/lemon/spinach/absinthe/bacon

Hemingway used to binge on a cocktail called Death in the Afternoon, made with half champagne and half absinthe. Tonight we’re drinking the Broken Vow, which has a little sparkling wine, absinthe-related green chartreuse, orange syrup and gin. It goes down well with the single Rappahannock Barcat oyster dressed up with absinthe-soaked spinach and tiny bits of bacon.

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Inside Rogue Sessions: David Posey

Unless you’ve had a chance to spend some time dining in the Windy City, you probably haven’t had a chance to enjoy David Posey’s award-winning cuisine. As Blackbird’s chef de cuisine, he focuses on highly refined dishes that focus on subtly woven flavors presented in artful compositions. Sounds like someone else we all know.

Reading over Blackbird’s menu, one finds a subtle synchronicity between Posey’s creations and those that RJ is earning acclaim for at Rogue 24.  Both chefs enjoy taking something simple like a butternut squash soup, then elevating it to unscaled heights.  A version of Cooper’s that I once enjoyed included fresh wild herbs and a delicate vegetable consommé, while Posey dots his iteration with bits of brined peach and roe. By no means are the two men doing similar dishes, but I’m guessing that Posey will feel right at home in the centerstage kitchen.

 

1st course

Smoked hamachi tartare/daikon/apple

The meal begins with a dish that Posey tells us is in development for the menu back home. Crispy cider-braised daikon accompanies a circle of hamachi tartare and a swipe of buttermilk puree. The flavors are clean – almost monastic – except for the acidic and apple-y radish.

2nd course

Sea bass/chorizo/parsnip/clam/pear

A hint of cinnamon, miniature bay leaves and a pair of snappy chorizo chips break off the shackles on this otherwise restrained dish. Pear and parsnip add a sweet undertone, which pairs well with the clam hidden below the tender fish filet.

3rd course

Octopus confit/chestnuts/fingerlime/fennel

Chef Posey comes over to introduce this dish, which incorporates chestnuts two ways (pureed and crisped), delicate chili threads, blanched baby fennel and a paper-thin sliv of fingerlime. The multitude of micro-ingredients fill the bowl with flashes of mantis and kelly green, carmine red and blush pink.

Finishing reading this play-by-play on CityEats’ Plate blog now.

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Inside Rogue Sessions: José Andrés and Ruben García

Until minibar expands this summer, there are only six seats at the celebrated restaurant-within-a-restaurant. So when José Andrés and Ruben García announced that they were doing 50 seats a night for five nights at Rogue 24, a foodie frenzy erupted. Tickets sold out in less than an hour, turning the dinner series into the hottest show in town. Giada De Laurentiis could have offered make out sessions in by the front door and guys would have trampled over her if a seat opened up.

I have to admit that I was more than a little thrilled when I heard that the two chefs would be taking part in the series. No matter how jaded you are – though I retain my childlike wonder when it comes to great food – this was going to be a special treat.

But when I walked into the restaurant that night, I was yearning for more than a phenomenal meal. Burdened with bad news, I desperately wanted an elevational experience. I craved transportive tastes that could whisk me away from the troubles of the day to a momentary alternative universe. It’s a lot to ask of anyone; perhaps it’s even selfish and unfair. I admitted as much to my wife, who was joining me for dinner that evening. “Good, bad, it’s all life,” she reminded me.

1st course

Olive oil bon bon/caramel

The opening number looks like a blazing meteor frozen in mid-flight, its contrail shooting out behind to form the perfect place to pick it up. Placing this celestial lollipop on my tongue, I let it sit for a moment before crunching down. That shatters the delicate caramel casing and releases a warm rush of olive oil, which mixes with the grains of perky vinegar salt lingering on the edge of this delicate comet. The flavors evaporate quickly, cleansing the palate pleasantly.

***2nd course

Dragon’s breath kettlecorn

“You must look at each other while you eat this,” our server instructs as he places tiny balls of caramel popcorn dipped in liquid nitrogen in front of us. Wispy mist rises from them as we pick up the cool cubes and pop them in our mouths. Beginning to chew, the faux smoke escapes Snoop style and we both giggle like we’ve just taken an instantly intoxicating Vaporizer hit.

Finish reading my play-by-play over on CityEats’ Plate blog now. 

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Inside Rogue Sessions: Spike Gjerde

All of the chefs cooking at the Rogue Sessions will be incorporating local ingredients, but none are more focused on products from the DMV than Spike Gjerde of the highly acclaimed Woodberry Kitchen. For the past four years, the Baltimore eatery has been offering rootsy Americana-themed cuisine that highlights the finest foodstuffs from the Chesapeake watershed. If it’s not available locally, it’s probably not on the menu.

Since Gjerde likes to use a plethora of produce, he is the king of canning. When I spoke with him this past summer, he was hoping to preserve 5,000 pounds of tomatoes, so he could keep them on the menu through the winter. Well, now it’s winter – even if it doesn’t look like it – so I wondered which bright, bold flavors from chef’s larder up north would make their way on to my plate.

Note: To spare readers the repetition and my waistline the punishment, I will be concentrating solely on the visiting chefs’ dishes for the remaining Rogue Sessions.

***1st course

Snow Hill oyster/fish pepper/pickled ramps

Chef Gjerde comes over to our table to personally introduce the first course: a single Snow Hill oyster balance atop a ghost white hummock of salt. A light umber ramp “glass” encloses the bivalve with a sprinkle of fish pepper. Breaking through, I scoop the contents into a single spoonful of contrasting textures – the thin sheet of ramp crackles as it melts on my tongue, while the crustacean has a wonderfully custardy consistency.

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Inside Rogue Sessions: Tim Byres

The Sunday before Smoke’s Tim Byres began his Rogue Sessions, he wanted to try out the new grill he’d be using all week. So, he threw a BYOM – Bring Your Own Meat – party in Blagden Alley outside the restaurant. The concept was simple: anyone could stop by with some steak, chicken, shrimp, baby back pork, ribs, whatever, and the Dallas-based chef would throw it on the burners. The BBQ was a success – a few dozen people showed up with an impressive selection of carne, Byres gave impromptu cooking demos while people contentedly demolished whatever he made. And the stainless steel grill from Grillworks was smoke-stained and battle-hardened by the end.

But how would this rustic, Texas-sized cuisine translate into the refined and restrained Rogue 24 format? And how would Byres’ dishes stand alongside Cooper’s creations?

I’m still wondering about this as I walk down the brick-lined alley for my second week hanging out at Rogue 24 for Rogue Sessions. As I approach the entrance, I catch a whiff of smoke from the wood-fired grill. It’s bucolic and beckoning, a warm reminder of the campfire cooking my father and I used to do on childhood fishing trips. It’s not what you expect at a limited edition tasting menu dinner, but I immediately feel at home.

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Inside Rogue Sessions: Bryan Voltaggio

Sitting down in the salon of Rogue 24 before my inaugural Rogue Session with Bryan Voltaggio, the strains of a rocked out cover of the Smiths’ “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” drift over; “To die by your side/Well the pleasure, the privilege is mine.” Considering that I’m about to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime journey, it’s a fitting opening couplet.

Looking into the dining room beyond is like a peek into a heavenly otherworld. A gauzy curtain separates the central space, where floating orbs of light softly illuminate the proceedings. The house is packed tonight — the whole week sold out in a flash — so culinary team and the servers have their work cut out for them.

These Rogue Sessions came about after chef-owner RJ Cooper was diagnosed with a life threatening heart defect that required immediate and extensive surgery that would keep him out of the kitchen for several months. So, he started calling culinary colleagues to see if they could take over his duties while he was away. Ultimately, ten chefs stepped up to helm the burners — with Bryan Voltaggio kicking things off. Weekly emails from Gilt City DC reveal who is coming in next for 24 rounds. Each chef in this impressive lineup will be cooking for 50 people a night for just five days, so scoring a seat will be challenge. The only way to get tickets is through Gilt City DC and the reservations themselves are then handled by CityEats.

The menu is divided into twelve dishes from the visiting chef’s recipe collection and a dozen culled from RJ Cooper’s arsenal. Menus aren’t revealed in advance, though, so you don’t know just what will happen until you sit down. By the look of the focused flurry around the center stage kitchen, it looks like Voltaggio is pulling out all the stops. No matter what, I’m sure that the pleasure and the privilege will be mine.

Get the bite by bite breakdown by clicking over to CityEats’ Plate blog now.

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