“The sound of French cooking is ‘buenos dias,’” says chef Daniel Rose, finding refuge in the kitchen while visitors dressed in their finest party clothes crammed into Le Select on Wednesday for an opening party in River North.
Le Select is the anticipated French restaurant opening Saturday from Rose and Boka Restaurant Group, the award-winning company that’s worked with well-known chefs like Stephanie Izard and Giuseppe Tentori. There’s a slight melancholy as Le Select is around the corner from Tentori’s GT Fish & Oyster. The seafood restaurant closed on New Year’s Eve after a 12-year run.
Boka has taken over a restaurant space that’s housed SushiSambaRio and, most recently, Bottled Blonde. Boka didn’t say if it burned sage, but it did bring design firm AvroKo to remodel the two-floor restaurant on the corner of Wells and Illinois to eradicate any trace of its previous tenant. Upstairs is a private room called Bar 504 that doubles as a lounge for pre- and after-dinner libations.
Rose showered praise on his kitchen staff, who are mostly Spanish speakers, and how they’ve picked up so much about French cuisine in a short period of time. That’s not always the case. In December, he opened Café Basque in LA, his first restaurant with Chicago’s Boka Restaurant Group. Due to various factors, including location, it’s been a challenge to find workers. Not so in Chicago for Le Select, Rose says.
New Yorkers know Rose from Michelin-starred Le Coucou. He says New York and LA, to him (Rose grew up in Chicago’s suburbs and spends much of his time in Paris), those two American cities are siblings: “Chicago is a different thing unto itself,” he says.
A lot of different types of cooking can take place inside a French brasserie, and for Rose that was the best way to remain authentic to Chicago and to utilize the 200-plus seats at Le Select. Rose is fond of describing a brasserie’s mission as “serving the highest level of food and service to the most number of people.” In the shadow of the Chicago Board of Trade — just a mile south — the hustle and bustle of commerce emerged as a theme. Brasseries aren’t just about serving French food either, Rose says. Iconic Gibsons Steakhouse is the American equivalent, serving chops to the masses on Gold Coast at a sometimes frenetic pace.
Knowing that, Rose says Le Select isn’t going after awards, but aiming for a French definition of perfection. What does that mean? Rose points out that his favorite restaurant in the city is Lou Mitchell’s, the West Loop morning dive that opened in 1923. Are there better breakfast options in the city? Perhaps, but with its humble ambiance and dependable menu, Lou Mitchell’s achieves a level of satisfaction that Rose equates with perfection. Diners are going to find dishes they’ll crave, which will lead to repeat business.
That’s the future of restaurants, he says. It’s not big-name chefs micromanaging kitchens, it’s passing along knowledge to cooks and trusting them to put out the best possible dishes. That’s an elegant way of saying restaurants will use more consultants, a trend Chicago is already seeing. Rose, who described himself as “that guy from Wilmette” who speaks French, is already versed in the ways of cultural exchange in upholding French culinary traditions. In Paris, Greek immigrants are the cooks who are likely most responsible for those decadent meals Americans expect in France. Rose gushed about having the chance to share what he learned in Paris with Chicago cooks: “They only know what they were shown on TV,” he says. “Then I show them the real thing and they say ‘oh, I get it!’”
Looking over the menu, there’s a tried-and-true collection of French classics. Rose talks about how a kitchen needs to nail a simple dish like scallops (Le Select’s comes lightly seared with French curry and a celeriac purée). He was also happy to find a reliable sausage maker in Avondale’s Kurowski Sausage Shop, which reminded him of the smoked meats he’d find in Europe. The encased meats are featured in the choucroute strasbourgeoise. The desserts are from new Boka director of pastry Casey Doody.
For Boka — the Chicago hit factory responsible for Girl & the Goat — this is the first Chicago opening since Alla Vita debuted in 2021. It also opened Café Basque in LA with Rose, and Laser Wolf in New York. Rose and Boka were ready to make their business relationship back in January 2020, but the pandemic had other plans. Check out the menu and a few dishes below. The restaurant is, as Rose points out, a family-friendly affair.