If you want a seat at James Beard Award winner RJ Cooper's newest restaurant, you'll have to hunt it down.
RJ Cooper wants you to find Rabbit Hole and he wants you to eat there. He just doesn’t necessarily want it to be easy for you. The chef at the recently opened Henley in Nashville is in the final planning stages before launching the restaurant’s secret chef’s table he’s calling Rabbit Hole in October. The table itself is completely separated from the rest of the restaurant—hidden behind a bookcase and actually inside Henley’s closed kitchen— and in order to book a ticket for dinner, customers will have to chase the Rabbit Hole logo around the Henley website, catch it and click on it to go to the reservation page (if you’re boring you can also email firstname.lastname@example.org).
But all of it, the secret door, the playful reservation system and most importantly the 24 course tasting menu, are of a piece for Cooper. He intends Rabbit Hole to be a transformative experience from the moment you walk in the door. “We want it to be intriguing and controversial. When you sit down at that table you’ll be in a space that provokes conversation,” he says. Cooper has provoked conversation before with his work at Rogue 24 in Washington D.C., his alleyway restaurant that was perhaps even more ambitious than Rabbit Hole. “It’s going to be what I did at Rogue on a different scale,” says Cooper. While his Nashville tasting menu will be for a single table twice a night, Rogue 24, which as it the name suggests, also served a 24 course menu, sat 52. But what that means for the people lucky enough to dine at Rabbit Hole is that they will get a truly personal experience. Cooper said the meal will begin with a piece of edible mushroom paper torn from a book, reading “enjoy the trip,” a nod to Alice in Wonderland, which gave Rabbit Hole its name. From there the menu will be a seasonal, evolving affair, with a focus on the local, right down to the plates sourced from local potters. It will have dishes like a 180-day aged sirloin, rubbed with sake lees from a local Nashville brewer, aged for another 30 days, roasted with beef fat and served with foraged mushrooms. Cooper says he hopes Rabbit Hole will offer the kind of immersive fine dining experience he feels Nashville hasn't had.
The unique space and experience that Rabbit Hole promises will certainly get support from the food served up front at Henley. Modern riffs on Southern staples along smart touches like a short, but outstanding selection of cured meat (seriously don’t leave the restaurant without ordering some ham from Smoking Goose) offer the kind of comfortable dinner that will bring people back and likely pique their curiosity about what’s going on behind that secret door.
With the restaurant in a restaurant Cooper wants to start a different kind of conversation, with his food, with the space, with the experience. And next month we'll find out exactly what he wants to say.