A Fine Dining Experience at Rare

By Marni McEntee | Photographed by Sunny Frantz

Dining at Rare Steakhouse makes you feel rich. Not gold-toilet-seat, your-name-on-a-high-rise rich, but elegant, mahogany trim, leather booths and chandelier rich, with an extra side of pampering by a captain-server duo aiming to anticipate your needs.

“The amount of time and service we give to our guests requires two people to make sure things are running smoothly and in a timely fashion,” says Genevieve Visse, who until recently was the only female captain at Rare in Madison. “Dining is an experience and we’ve found that the culture has very much come back to that sense.”

In Rare’s inky interior, the steaks are the stars but the seafood is no slouch, either—flown in daily. To start, try the Oysters Rockefeller—as long as we’re on the rich theme— which have a surprisingly sea-fresh taste considering we’re landlocked here. Prepared with butter and a touch of Pernod, garnished with spinach and local Nueske’s bacon, this is a seriously comfort-inducing appetizer. It pairs well with one of Rare’s signature cocktails, like the Mad Man, featuring Death’s Door gin and the dry breath of Yzaguirre Vermouth, along with a spritz of Dalmore 18, leaving a film of fine Scotch on top.

Or, order from Madison’s largest wine list, which includes 400-plus different kinds of wine—some with breathtaking price tags but many accessible to the masses, or by the glass.

For a bit of a show, choose the Classic Caesar’s Salad, prepared in a wooden bowl tableside by the captain, who weaves a story about the dish’s invention, surprisingly by a California ex-pat in Tijuana, Mexico.  She smashes the garlic cloves in the bowl, then adds an emulsion made fresh daily of black, salt-cured French anchovy, Dijon mustard and Worcestershire Sauce. An egg yolk comes next, followed next by fresh lemon juice to “cook” the egg. Lastly the chopped Romaine is tossed with the mixture, topped with a sprinkling of SarVecchio Parmesan by local maker Sartori Cheese, and voila! “It’s a flavor bomb,” Visse says.

Don’t hesitate to try the house made, ultra-light popovers, baked with 40 egg yolks per batch in a cast-iron pan and brought to the table warm, accompanied by both fresh, house made whipped strawberry butter and Maldon sea salt butter.

Chefs are putting together Rare’s fall/winter menu, including some new seafood options, Sous Chef Joshua Pickering says. But standouts and menu regulars will remain, such as the fresh Scottish salmon, pan roasted to Omega-3 releasing perfection, finished with butter and served with crispy asparagus and a barely sweet orange reduction sauce.

Rare’s signature steaks, procured from Whittingham Meats near Chicago, are dry-aged in the restaurant’s custom-made cooler, which desiccates the outside of the beef, leaving moist and tenderized meat inside, Pickering says. “Dry-aged steak is really concentrated and the most tender meat that’s just out of this world when cooked.”

Steaks, including phenomenal wet-aged filets of various weights, are broiled in a custom-made Montague broiler, which heats to 1,800 degrees and quickly sears the meat. They’re served with raw au jus or a demi glace, so guests have the choice of several “enhancements,” including sauteed mushrooms, foi gras butter, bacon or bleu cheese.

Entrees come side-free, so guests choose from a variety of them, including a rich and plentiful Potatoes Au Gratin that’s easily enough for two—and maybe more. Such dishes, says owner Jack Sosnowski, are part of Rare’s effort to encourage dining family style, sharing sides around the table. Sosnowski, whose Nobel Chef Hospitality group includes Freiburg Gastro Pub and Capital Tap Haus in Madison, is in the process of opening the newest Rare Steak and Seafood in Washington, D.C. A third is already open in Milwaukee.

To end the meal at Rare as you began it—with a show—order the Bananas Foster, made from a ripe banana, high-proof white rum, banana liqueur and a buttery caramel sauce by your captain at the table. It comes with a fiery end as the rum is set alight to braise the bananas and bubble up the sauce just so. A sprinkle of cinnamon into the flames adds a sparkly climax before the sauce is poured over three scoops of vanilla ice cream from The Chocolate Shoppe,

“It has a sticky, rich, bubbly deliciousness,“ Visse says.

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