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.
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 crystalline comet. The flavors evaporate quickly, cleansing the palate pleasantly.
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.
Fruit roll up/raspberry/yogurt
Remember those fruit roll ups that your mom used to tuck in your Star Wars lunchbox? I’ll never forget them, but this is nothing like that. The Andrés-García version is crackly and crispy, snapping into pinkly opaque shards when I break it in half to share with my wife. It deliquesces onto my tongue into creamy raspberry, a bold flavor that lingers fleetingly.
I have to laugh when this course arrives, because it is simply delightful. This play on the bougie bonbon doesn’t need to be unwrapped, because its gold exterior is edible. It’s not really candy either, instead possessing a buttery umami quality that highlights the hazelnut at its core.
Almond tart/blue cheese/passion fruit
We’re only 25 minutes into the proceedings when servers whisk out what looks like a miniature porcelain birdbath filled with beach pebbles crusted in ice crystals. Two half spheres perch at the center like a pair of oysters revealing their treasures. Picking one up, it begins to melt against my fingers instantly, so I take it all down in a single bite. All the elements collapse together to fuse into a sensation of earthy nuttiness with a sweet undercurrent.
Steamed brioche/sea urchin/alioli/Romesco
Chef García comes over to tell us that this is the only new item on the menu, so minibar fanatics should take note. This miniature bocata sandwich has a center of uni with pickled ramps to keep the richness balanced. Though it sounds heavy, it feels just as light as the fruit roll up. We’re at the one hour mark; still I’m nowhere near full.
Philly cheese steak/Wagyu/white cheddar/caramelized onions
Geno and Pat should call it a day, because José and Ruben make the best cheesesteak out there (purists, piss off). Carpaccio-thin layers of truffled and peppered Wagyu beef are arrayed along a zeppelin-shaped pita filled with foamy sharp cheddar and sweet caramelized onions. Truly one of the best bites of my life. I could have eaten a foot-long version with ease.
Adam & Eve/apple/foie gras/peanut butter/jelly
How do you trump the last course? You send out an apple meringue sandwich filled with fluffy foie gras, tiny cubes of tart apple, a thin slather of jelly and a schmear of peanut butter. Another best bite of my life. This is not a superlative-loving writer going overboard; this is the simple truth of the matter.
Baby carrots/Thai curry/black sesame
“This is like sex in your mouth,” my wife says between savored mouthfuls of this superb soup. Elfin orange carrots float in a sea of airy coconut broth dotted with black sesame seeds and boosted with hints of ginger and curry to conjure Thailand’s greatest hits in a single spoonful.
Late night shawarma
Wrapped in edible cellophane, this reinvention of an Arabic street food staple is nothing like the sloppy, greasy version that one food writer may have habitually eaten in his twenties after raging through the East Village bar scene. Dipping one end of this deconstructed late night favorite into an aerated cloud of yogurt at the center of the plate, this inventive iteration crackles when you bite down, releasing a flurry of flavors including wonderfully in-your-face cilantro.
Pan con chocolate/saffron/olive oil
A little less than two hours has passed since we sat down when the dessert course begins. Lighter than powdered snow aerated chocolate dust hides a mound of creamy saffron custard shot through with salted breadcrumbs that provide a crunchy counterpoint to the prevailing smoothness. A small pool of golden olive oil lurking in the bottom corner of the bowl elegantly interfuses the sweet and the savory elements.
Served on a bed of cocoa dirt with a sprig of pine, these crunchy chocolate spheres encapsulate all the flavors of the boozy Italian dessert. As with the other dishes, this one possesses none of the heaviness that is a hallmark of the classic counterpart that inspired it. Absolutely divine.
Happy endings/little things/small bites
“You didn’t think you could get away without one more bite, did you?” pastry chef Giane Cavaliere asks as she places see-thru Riesling-infused gelées on our table. Tiny slips of sugared lime float at their centers – a sweet zing that cuts through overriding the vinous flavors.
As we’re enjoying the afterglow, my wife comments, “You have to admit that your starred choices are going to be almost arbitrary, because everything has been frickin’ fantastic.” I open my mouth to refute her, but snap it shut. She’s right; as she often is. (Maybe I shouldn’t have put that in print, because it will be used against me).
This was a meal of a lifetime. The technique and presentation transcended traditional dining, but the theatrical elements never outshone the flavors. At their core, these were all dishes that I want to eat again (and again) because of how they tasted, not because of their fantastical aesthetics. Andrés’ and García’s cuisine allowed me to lose myself in the moment and truly experience what I was enjoying. Call it culinary satori. For the course of one unforgettable dinner, the eye of the storm hovered over Blagden Alley.
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