The logo for Born & Raised is everywhere.
A gold, Art Deco-styled BAR dominates the cover of the drink list. There’s one in each corner of the menu, on the green marble tabletops, the plates, the steak knives, to-go boxes, seemingly every surface.
BAR. BAR. BAR.
It’s indicative of the impressively meticulous attention to even the smallest detail at this ravishing, $6.5 million steakhouse in Little Italy.
And during three swoon-inducing visits there, it also became an ubiquitous visual cue to all the areas in which Born & Raised has raised the bar in San Diego.
Service? BAR. Sustenance? BAR. Swank? BAR!
Born & Raised is hipster restaurant group CH Project’s no-expense-spared, dazzling throwback to the era when charming servers donned tuxedos and rolled gilded carts tableside to prepare a classic cocktail, Caesar salad and steak Diane. It’s where the snazz-o-meter veers off the charts, as the city’s most dapper denizens clink martini glasses, toss around bon mots and revel in their good fortune of snagging a reservation at this clubby chophouse.
“I feel like I just stepped onto the set of ‘Mad Men,’ ” my dinner companion said last week. “How cool is this?”
And costly. Expect to drop about $150 per person here and if you’re wondering if it’s worth it, consider this: What first-class trip to another time and place comes at coach prices?
Designer Paul Basile’s glitzy dining room is a spectacle of Art Deco-meets-Mid-Century with brass, marble, crystal and leather flourishes and scene-stealing walnut-encased beams shaped like blooming tulips — or, fittingly, Champagne coupes.
Born & Raised is also downright delicious. Nearly every one of the two dozen things I’ve tried has been the best version of it I’ve ever had: from the made-to-order Born & Raised single-barrel Knob Creek bourbon Manhattan to the delectable snails with bone marrow, ultra-velvety polenta, sumptuous uni spaghetti, fresh-baked popover roll, and, above all, each of the steaks — Japanese wagyu, Châteaubriand, tartare, filet mignon, bone-in ribeye and prime rib.
Even the dime-sized sample of private label white sturgeon caviar I was proffered to lick off my hand made me feign fainting, it was so smooth, creamy and sublimely briny.
A few dishes didn’t quite soar on my first visit, just days after opening in September. Chalk those small missteps to Born & Raised debuting with more than 2,000 reservations on the books, not lack of kitchen skill. Executive chef Jason McLeod is living up to the celebrity chef hype that surrounded his 2014 arrival here at last. (On repeat visits, I’ve had each of those dishes again and now I’d put BAR’s custom Caesar, butter-loaded Robuchon potatoes and seven-layer carrot cake up against anyone’s.)
Nothing at Born & Raised looks, tastes or feels like anywhere else in San Diego. And that’s just what the talented trio behind this project were going for. Co-owner and CH Projects restaurant group mastermind Arsalun Tafazoli, along with McLeod and Basile, have sweated every element, delay and cost overrun of this game-changing venture.
Theirs was always an ambitious proposal: to turn the old Nelson Photo building on India Street into an upscale steakhouse that combined the classics, like tableside service, with the trendy (those tuxedoed servers also wear sneakers; the mixologists shorts).
“We wanted to return to the glory of dining out,” Tafazoli said in the anxious weeks before the opening.
That glory comes in many forms — on the plate and in the glass, of course — but also in engaging with the expertly trained servers, watching butcher Michelle Allen break down a side of beef in the glass-enclosed dry-aging room and savoring every drop of a wine recommended by sommelier Rafael Peterson.
All that said, we now interrupt this praise-fest to bring you a jarring critique. Go upstairs, past the lively rooftop bar and patio, and Born & Raised’s imminently tacky restrooms will — jarringly — break the classy mood the dining room downstairs cosseted you in.
It’s beyond me why a men’s room needs to be identified with a gender-specific profanity. Or why the toilet seats have vulgarities written on them. Really? It’s not just juvenile. In 2017 — when women finally feel it’s safe to say “enough!” to toxic male behavior — these icky and dated affectations are beneath this high-class joint. They lower the bar down to the “Mad Men” behaving badly era.
I don’t think that’s the throwback they were intending.
Born & Raised
Where: 1909 India St., Little Italy
Phone: (619) 202-4577