Poets have the old line that the sonnet is a form that only allows for perfection. In the restaurant biz, the same might be true for the steakhouse. It’s a tight and classic genre expressed in not just impeccably seared steaks but also in all the accouterments: alpine-cold martinis, busting with butter and tarragon Béarnaise, and as much cream — that is, all the cream — you can get into every vegetable side.
Rare Society comes to Funk Zone–adjacent State Street ready to show Santa Barbara what San Diego already knows: Chef Brad Wise has a burgeoning beef empire on his hands. Wise and his team appreciate all the steakhouse “rules,” while pushing at the lines just enough to deliver a spectacular experience of muchness, at a slightly less than equally extravagant price point.
The lavish, Vegas-style glitzy remake of the former Corazón Cocina/The Project space certainly sets a dramatic scene, what with the front room devoted to a horseshoe bar facing the open kitchen and its open flames and the back room of booths and what they refer to as a train car down the center (once you see it, it makes total sense), only for dining. And, of course, drinking with dining, including a Central Coast–focused wine list.
Wise’s influences are clear. Born in Cape May, the southernmost tip of New Jersey, “Exit 0,” as he explained, means he won’t skimp on the seafood portion of the steakhouse experience — just check out the opulent seafood towers. It also means Old Bay will be lacing that shrimp cocktail. Wise’s wife is a California Central Coast native, so that influenced his appreciation of Santa Maria–style barbecue. It’s not what Rare Society does, but everything does get grilled over red oak for the ultimate in flavor.
Of course, the stars of their steak program are their in-house — you walk right by them as you enter the swank dining room — 30-to-40-day, dry-aged steaks. “It’s a pure meat flavor, a bit funky,” Wise explained. “We sell more than I expected of this concept.” The blocks of Himalayan pink salt at the dryer’s bottom pull out the moisture.
That leads to Rare Society’s clever presentation — be sure to go with as many carnivores as you can, as they serve the steak offerings Lazy Susan–style. The smaller of the two, the Associate, gives you three cuts of the night, usually featuring Australian Wagyu. The Executive gives you five cuts, and the star: the dry-aged beef.
“It’s a way to go to a steakhouse and have five different types of meat,” said Wise. “And we like featuring off cuts and not just rib-eyes or New Yorks.”
The sharing makes the whole evening more communal and festive, plus it also prevents one of my personal dreaded moments at a steakhouse: when you’re three-quarters of the way into devouring some mammoth slab of beef and realize your stomach wants to wave the white flag of surrender.
While vegans might have a hard time at Rare Society, pescatarians can feast on the seafood options — the king salmon was cooked to perfection — and lactose-tolerant vegetarians can enjoy a multitude of sides, almost all calorie-busters, from truffled creamed spinach to shell mac with yellow cheese, as comforting to eat now as to remember eating as a child.
Of course, nostalgia is one of the draws of the steakhouse genre — iceberg is still a valid lettuce in a wedge salad (it’s just a crunchy vehicle for consuming blue cheese dressing), even if one of the current menu highlights is a sublime scallop aguachile fit for the finest sushi spot. Wise even chose the restaurant’s name, recalling how the East Coast of his youth is replete with all sorts of clubs that bill themselves as “Society,” and then “Rare” just made sense for what he was grilling.
214 State St., (805) 335-2088; raresociety.com/santa-barbara