New local restaurant an homage to retro steakhouses
Premium proteins grilled on an open flame inside the exhibition kitchens and served shared-style with house-made sauces are at the heart of the menu at Rare Society, a fascinating new Santa Barbara eatery that will open in July at 214 State St.
Cuts of dry-aged ribeyes, American wagyu and classic filet mignon will complement bedrock steakhouse specialties such as Oysters Rockefeller, snow crab legs, Caesar salad, a seafood tower and a decadent dessert selection.
Inside the space, white marble, tufted leather booths and a gold-paneled ceiling invoke the lore of Rat Pack gatherings and raucous Sinatra dinner parties, while the outdoor bar and covered patio offer a decidedly lighter atmosphere for beach-going crowds looking for happy hour or healthy lunch options.
Rare Society is part of the TRUST Restaurant Group, the San Diego-based hospitality collective helmed by Chef Brad Wise. Its portfolio includes five distinct concepts that run the gamut from fine dining to a butcher shop to an ice cream window.
Chef Wise said he decided to open Rare Society in Santa Barbara because “it feels like a coming home for me. My wife is from the Central Coast, and it’s here where I was first exposed to the Santa Maria-style of grilling and where the seeds for Rare Society were ultimately planted.
“We took this method of production (live-fire cooking), and added our own spin on it. We designed the space to be elevated with gold accents and velvet touches and tufted leather. You feel like you’re in this fancy space, but there’s a huge grill in the kitchen, and everything has some char on it.
“So as we were looking around and creating our wish list of cities and towns we wanted to open a Rare Society in, Santa Barbara was at the top of the list. It feels like a natural fit for the region — we’re an open fire/Santa Maria-style, neighborhood steakhouse that highlights those cuts of meat, like tri tip, that this region is known for.”
The provocative name, Rare Society, is a double entendre, according to Chef Wise, who is married to Kristen and has two young daughters, Charlie and Georgie.
“Rare refers to steak, and it also notes that we are a rare breed — we’re a steakhouse like no other. We stand alone doing what we do. Society refers to the community we seek to build here. We’re creating this special, shared space, one that people want to join and be a part of. A society, if you will.
“We fit into our own category of steakhouse. We’re approachable — you can come in on a budget, casually, and eat really well, or you can dress up and go all out. Either way, you’re going to have a great experience. My first restaurant and all our subsequent ones revolve around this idea of shared plates, of coming together, so when we created Rare Society, we wanted to bring that same style of shared plates and communal dining to the concept. This means that everything’s meant to be shared, including the steaks.”
To demonstrate how this works, Chef Wise described the restaurant’s two different meat boards — The Associate and The Executive, each of which highlights three different cuts of steak.
“The Associate is our wagyu board. The cuts change based on what I want to serve, but the idea is to expose people to pieces of meat that they may not be all that familiar with like a wagyu Denver steak, a wagyu tri tip, alongside those steakhouse staples like a wagyu filet mignon.
“The Executive is our dry-aged board. We dry age our meat in-house to my specifications. It’s more mild and less funky — it’s approachable. Those cuts can change too, but generally I like to serve a bone-in ribeye, a New York strip and a filet mignon. These boards are presented on a custom-made Lazy Susan right in the middle of the table, so you’re sitting there and the boards drop and you can spin the board around and sample each cut of meat. This way of dining is at the core of our hospitality ethos,” he said.
“The other thing that really makes Rare Society different is how we actually cook the steaks. I am a huge fan of live fire grilling, and all our restaurants incorporate it in some way. Rare Society is no exception. We have a grill in our kitchen that burns American Red Oak harvested nearby. So the flavors from our dishes, the char and the smokiness and the aromas from the wood lend itself to the dishes, and they take on these bold flavors that we’re known for. “
Among the signature dishes he is most excited to share with the Santa Barbara crowd — besides the boards — is the dry-aged bacon chop, which is four pieces of pork that are normally separated — a bone-in pork chop, baby back ribs, a spare rib and the belly.
“We keep them together as one, and it’s a cut that only really works when cooked over a fire. The belly becomes a smokey bacon that’s central to the dish. The rub is a San-Diego-Meets-Texas spice rub, an Americana mixture with salt, black pepper, cayenne, toasted cumin seeds, coriander and Spanish paprika,” Chef Wise said.
“There’s a light heat that doesn’t overpower your palate. We dry-age it in-house for three weeks, lightly brush it with a seasonal glaze (this summer it’s charred peaches), and grill it over that open flame. This is one of those dishes that embodies everything we seek to do at our restaurants — provide a completely unique experience with bold flavors, modern techniques and of course, fire.”