Before its tenure as Bottled Blonde — the much-maligned sports bar and club that closed last year — the space on Wells Street where the alleged restaurant stood held a strong dining reputation in River North. Boka Restaurant Group co-founders Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz lovingly talk about Hudson Club, a brasserie and bar that opened in 1996 before giving way to SushiSamba, the fusion restaurant that closed in 2014.
Katz and Boehm say Hudson Club, with its bustling atmosphere, was the type of restaurant they were envious of as inexperienced restaurant owners: “Back in the day, [Boehm] and I would walk into the Hudson space as green restaurateurs and say ‘wow, this is amazing,” Katz says.
The pair want to restore the space to that glory with a French restaurant — a “big, approachable, fun brasserie” called Le Select. The restaurant — ticketed for a mid- to late-summer debut — will have a big-name chef in charge: Boka has lured Chicago-area native Daniel Rose back home. Rose is the chef at Michelin-starred Le Coucou in New York, the 2017 James Beard Award winner for Best New Restaurant in America. Eater NY critic Ryan Sutton awarded Le Coucou a three-star review in 2016, praising it for its traditional sensibilities and the way it impressed “New Yorkers with a few of the overlooked culinary wonders of yesteryear.”
Rose moved from Paris in 2015 to open Le Coucou. He made a name for himself in France where he opened Spring, an intimate fine dining restaurant that closed after a 10-year run. Katz and Boehm say they’ve long admired Rose’s work and have known him for years. Rose, who’s from Wilmette, still has family in the area and Boka managed to bring him home: “Daniel is as good as anyone there is in the realm of food and cooking,” Katz says.
Rose wasn’t available for an interview — a rep says he’s right now focusing on getting Le Coucou back on its feet; it reopened last month for the first time since the start of the pandemic. He still has two restaurants in France. Before opening Le Coucou, he mulled opening a Chicago restaurant, but then he partnered with Stephen Starr — the East Coast magnate with restaurants in New York and Philadelphia — to open Le Coucou.
For Boka, an award-winning restaurant group that runs Girl & the Goat locations in Chicago and LA with celebrity chef Stephanie Izard, this is its first French restaurant. For Chicago, this is the second high-profile French restaurant announced for River North within a week. Le Bouchon’s owners have plans to open Obélix in January. Boehm says Boka has wanted to open a French restaurant for years, and points out that outside of Chicago that the cuisine continues to be popular and that after Le Coucou’s Beard Award win in 2017, Frenchette in New York took home the same honor in 2019.
Boka isn’t ready to talk about Le Select’s menu, but Katz lauds Rose’s creativity as a “free thinker” who pays attention to detail. While diners may identify similarities between Le Coucou and Le Select, the team is striving for a unique identity in Chicago. Boka has already met with local residents and Ald. (42nd Ward) Brendan Reilly and say all parties are eager to wash their hands of the space’s previous tenant. Boehm says they’re happy to welcome a “world-class restaurant” to the neighborhood. Boka has plans to fill the 12,000-square-foot space with an energetic vibe. An additional 2,000 square feet will be devoted to private events.
Katz is confident that the restaurant industry will rebound in 2022 from the challenges of the pandemic. This is the second major announcement for Boka in the past three weeks. In November, the group announced plans for a trio of restaurants in Lakeview.
Le Select, 504 N. Wells Street, planned for a mid- to late-summer opening.