Rare Society Serving Steaks Santa Maria StyleSep 20, 2023 01:47PM ● By Mary Colarik
by Mary Colarik
A brand-new restaurant with a view of the ocean recently opened on Avenida Del Mar. Housed in
a two-story building on the north side of the street, locals have been watching with keen curiosity the ongoing construction of the former office building. Rumors flew about town that a fabulous steak house based out of San Diego would be occupying the space. The rumors were true!
The renown Rare Society restaurant opened its gorgeous doors for business May 24. Perfect timing to kick off summer dining. The large space, 5,500 square feet has two open air patios, one at street level, the other upstairs, two interior dining areas, one downstairs and one up, plus an all-gold private dining room that seats 14 people at a long table with a decorated top displaying 5,000 gold coins.
A horseshoe shaped black marble bar is located downstairs near the entrance. The space is nothing short of spectacular. Incredible lighting highlights the dramatic use of gold and pacific blue colors accented throughout the dining areas. The classical Spanish architecture gives a nod to San Clemente’s founder, Ole Hanson, who envisioned a Spanish Village by the Sea with town buildings and homes built in the Spanish Style. Rare Society combines the Spanish Revival style with old style Las Vegas vintage steak houses reminiscent of the Rat Pack era. It is fancy but it retains a beach town feel with the ocean air wafting up the street through the extra-large open windows.
Everybody’s story begins somewhere. Brad Wise, the owner/chef of Rare Society which is part of the TRUST Restaurant Group is no exception. He grew up back east in New Jersey. He began working at a pizza place in Cape May at age 12. At the time he did not aspire to a career as a steak house chef and restauranteur. Yet somehow that is where his life path has taken him. Before starting to build his steak house brand with TRUST Restaurant Group he was involved with two other restaurant groups and worked at 10 different restaurants. While dating his now wife Kristen, he discovered Santa Maria style barbecue. His wife’s family have roots in the Santa Maria Valley which is famous for their unique style of barbecuing cuts of meat over an open fire of red oak coals. Red Oak trees are indigenous to that valley in California. The red oak provides a different flavor experience. Still smoky like hickory or mesquite but more mellow. This style of cooking meat began on the ranches in the Santa Maria area in the mid-1800s. The barbecues brought people together to enjoy the smoky, hearty flavor of the top block sirloin steaks and tri-tips.
Wise was intrigued even though his first experience eating this type of barbecue was less than fancy. However, he was excited by the “fun and hipness” of cooking over red oak coals, and that gave birth to his brand-new restaurant, Rare Society. He opened his first Rare Society restaurant in 2019 in University Heights, soon afterwards he opened three more locations in Solana Beach, Santa Barbara and Millcreek, Washington. The San Clemente location is number five. Hai Nugyen and Jeff Moore, the building’s owners, were considering two other well-known restaurant groups to occupy the space, but after taking a drive to Solana Beach, getting a feel for Rare Society and tasting the amazing steaks, Wise and his group were chosen for the place on Del Mar.
Brad says it was worth the wait to open in San Clemente. He invested time and effort to assure that the place would be special. He feels it is okay to make mistakes, but he expects his staff to understand his vision and to provide every table with exceptional service. His employees are mostly from San Clemente and South Orange County. According to Wise, “local support is everything.” When he is not at the restaurant, he enjoys time with his wife and their two young daughters, Charlie, five and Georgie, two. And an occasional day relaxing while fishing.
As our interview finishes, I am invited to stay and enjoy a meal with my companion. Brad had explained the menu during our conversation, the shareable plates of steaks served on a wooden lazy susan, the different sauces, the sustainably sourced seafood, the raw bar, other starters and specialty drinks. So, I was primed to enjoy an exciting dining experience.
Our fabulous server, Mark was immediately attentive to us and helped us pick out a drink from the ‘progressive’ cocktail list. The top cocktail is the Rare Old Fashioned, dry-aged fat-washed bourbon, rosemary, oleo, and bitters. A non-bourbon drinker I opted for the Bookkeeper - mezcal, cinnamon, grapefruit and lime. I was not disappointed; it was a little smoky which I like and very smooth. My friend enjoyed sipping Just a Peach, vodka, elderflower, grilled peach, lemon and soda. There are eight other specialty cocktails on the drinks menu. Additionally, there is a full bar with an array of spirits, beer and wine to suit everyone’s taste.
We choose three starters to share, the Parker House Rolls, smothered in truffle butter and herbs, Caesar Salad, romaine lettuce, fried anchovy and a generous portion of grated pecorino, plus thick sliced bacon with gochujang glaze and chive. Other starters include, oysters, two sizes of seafood towers, ahi tuna tartar, oysters Rockefeller, wood grilled Maine lobster and wood grilled lamb lollipops, plus several others.
After carefully reviewing the proteins, sides and shareable boards for our main entrée we decided on the executive board. This shareable board offers 56 oz. of steak, filet mignon, 35 day dry-aged bone-in ribeye and 40 day dry-aged bone in NY strip steak. The steaks were perfectly prepared medium rare. The boards are served with the customer’s choice of three distinct sauces from a selection of five, bearnaise, market veggie butter, Santa Maria style salsa, creamy horseradish and T1 steak sauce, plus bone marrow to spoon onto the meats. We found the steak so tasty we did not try any of the sauces. We choose two sides to accompany our steaks, potatoes au gratin and wood fried broccolini … amazingly delicious. It was a great opportunity to try different cuts of steak and decide which steak one prefers. The executive board would easily be enough steak for four people., especially considering the starters and sides ordered. (We happily took a lot of leftovers home.)
Of course, we could not pass up dessert. We ordered the butter cake, with sour cream ice cream and the bananas foster cheesecake. Both were delicious. The people at the tables next to us were intrigued by everything we ordered and especially interested in the shareable board and the bananas foster cheesecake. We each enjoyed a glass of Faust Cabernet Sauvignon wine with our main course. We did not imbibe in after dinner drinks, although the menu lists a small selection of night caps and final pours along with pages of wines and other spirits. My friend commented that the meal was a “gastronomic delight.” The staff was quite attentive, including our server and Mark, as well as the manager.
Reservations are recommended; the place was packed on a Wednesday night. It is also an ideal location for rehearsal dinners, birthdays, anniversaries or a small wedding party.b
Rare Society is located at 226 Avenida Del Mar, San Clemente. Phone: (949)669-7273. For more information check out their website, raresociety.com and social media, raresocietysteakhouse.