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Back in early May, chef R.J. Cooper was pretty much set on the menu for his experimental eatery in an alley, Rogue 24. He told me as much during a preview of the planned 24-course extravaganza in New York.
Two months of construction delays and several choice words for Pepco later, the Rogue Toque has drastically altered the lineup, as his long-awaited Blagden Alley restaurant prepares to finally open on July 27.
For one thing, the original opener, a deconstructed take on chips and salsa, which nearly made me choke from all the chip dust, has been cut from the roster. In its place, the Coop has bumped up one of his tastier bites from the previous sixth spot in the rotation: iberico lomo, cured Spanish pork, paired with watermelon, manchego cheese and marcona almond.
“The snack course that we started with, we weren’t thrilled with it,” Cooper explains. “We needed something to come out swinging like Muhammad Ali. We needed something with some punch…The iberico dish is phenomenal. It’s one bite. Delicious. Boom! It’s going to bring your palette to the level that we need it to be.”
Next up is Cooper’s play on oyster shooting. The accompanying mignonette is a sort of deconstructed take on Old Bay seasoning. “We took the classic recipe and ripped it apart,” he says. However, the dish does try to stay true to some traditions: “Classically, on the shore, an oyster shooter is not made with tomato juice and vodka. Who am I to argue with that coming from Detroit? It’s usually done with beer. So we’ve got the Snapperhead IPA and did this killer foam on top of it. It’s like sea foam. One bite. Slurp it down.”
Later down the menu, Cooper rolls out some sea urchin sans the squid ink toast he used in New York. “The squid ink toast, which I love, is not good with that dish. It kind of defeats the purpose of the wetness. The bread kind of dulls the palette. What we developed later in that week was a lava rock with squid ink, maltodextrin and oil, and when you bake it, it looks like black lava rocks. So, we’re using that and keeping the Clamato gel. And we’re pickling a bunch of fresh seaweeds with it.” The dish is served in a clam-shell-shaped bowl along with a pair of tweezers in place of silverware.
Cooper has also tweaked what is perhaps my favorite menu item from the preview: the nugget of liquid chicken that sort of explodes like a soup dumpling. The spherical shaped poultry will be served on platforms sculpted from chicken wire. “Where the square hole is, the [chicken ball] sits perfectly,” Cooper says.
Check out the full menu here.
Photo by Greg Powers