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“The customers never have to know,” Matthew Carroll told me during a party for Gilt City‘s D.C. launch, as he explains the hand gestures that will govern front-of-house service at Rogue 24.
The hugely hyped eatery from former Vidalia chef R.J. Cooper opens tonight in Shaw’s Bladgen Alley.
At first, it looks like every other restaurant built in the last couple of years: industrial chic with exposed brick, low hanging lights and all around distressed ascetic (see: Graffiato, Blackbyrd Warehouse, El Centro). But then, in the dead center of the place, is the kitchen. Tables hug the walls of the room as all diners can view the molecular gastronomy action of steaming liquid nitrogen and chef Cooper’s inked forearms.
Because of the openness of it all, including high ceilings and hard surfaces refusing to soften the noise, front-of-the-house staff must think of new ways to communicate. There’s no back room to hide. Every extra word will make the room that much louder. Instead, old-school hand signals will rule. And it starts right away.
As Carroll, the restaurant’s general manager and sommelier, explains it: When a guest orders still water, the person taking the order will tap four fingers—at the same time—on the top of the hand. If the guest wants sparkling, the signal changes to what looks like sprinkling, the pinky will go down first, and then each subsequent finger. It’s often the gesture to show boredom as well.
“We’re using ways to get around normal verbalization,” Carroll emphasizes, “and make it a little more quiet interaction between employees.”
With a fine-dining pedigree honed at the Inn at Little Washington and 2941, Carroll understands the nuances of upper-crust service. But even though the starting price-tag hangs in the three digits, this isn’t a place for ultra formality. Hell, the restaurant sits in an alley.
“We’re less stuffy than most fine dining—it’s R.J.’s idea of of urban fine dining,” he says. “There’s people that do that very polished fine dining style very well. We want to take those techniques, but we don’t want that feel. Our attitude is much more casual.”
But it’s also stealthy. Because Rogue 24’s menu is predetermined, servers’ interactions with customers will not revolve around taking orders, but instead be more physical. Through social cues, the floor captain will glean the dominant hand of each diner and arrange eating utensils appropriately. This “silent code of serving” as Carroll describes, is both sly and sharp, adjectives that might just describe Cooper’s daring 24-course menu.
Pictured: chocolate tennessee/cremeux/sorbet/soil, “Tennessee on a Stick.” It’s made with chocolate cremeux from Tennessee chocolatiers Oliver & Sinclair, then dipped in semi-sweet chocolate and edged in ground Oreos. Cooper uses an anti-griddle to quickly freeze the bottom, while letting the mousse-like middle stay soft.
Photo by Stefanie Gans