Editor's Note: Le Select has a new chef and menu since this was written. We will update this review soon.
Le Select in River North is what we like to call a BCR: Big Chicago Restaurant. Not only are these spots physically big, but they also come from a chef or team that both your boss and your dog walker have heard of. Big Chicago Restaurants tend to get a lot of attention, and can be hit or miss.
And Le Select from the Boka Group is a BCR gone wrong.
Having dinner at this football field-sized French restaurant in River North is like eating in a mid-century cruise ship. It’s filled with old-school touches: The staff wear jackets and bowties, an hors d'oeuvres trolley rolls around the dining room, and white tablecloths stretch as far as the eye can see.
Underneath this bespoke veneer lurks a lack of refinement. This place is just too big to be elegant. Le Select is more like a fancy restaurant theme park than the real deal. Piped-in pop music is muffled by chattering diners. The harried staff is playing the parachute game with flapping tablecloths as they turnover 9,874 tables. Expensive dishes, like entrecote bordelaise and duck l’orange, are served with flimsy knives that seem stolen from a college dining hall, and dainty desserts in tiny cups come with big spoons that make them awkward to eat. The trolley might as well be just for show—there’s only one for the entire space, so count on getting those “hors d'oeuvres” in the middle of your meal.
And that meal is going to be filled with inconsistencies. The steak au poivre is the platonic ideal of medium rare. But the ribeye covered in a red wine reduction and shallots turns to sawdust in your mouth. Salads are frequently overdressed, and the bottom of the pork and veal-filled tourte Alsacienne’s pastry is burned. But the tuna ravigote has an ideal balance of fat and acid—raw fish is snuggled next to a creamy caper sauce. Even when dishes are great (on a good night the duck l’orange is excellent), they’re still snoozy French classics.
Unless you really like red velvet chairs and brass accents, there are very few reasons to book a table at Le Select. For all its surface grandeur, there are no showstoppers on the menu to impress at a business dinner, and it’s too full of business dinners to come here for a sexy date night. Any special occasion will be overshadowed by a large group that’s three martinis deep into a loud conversation about this week’s office layoffs. If you’re looking for incredible French food downtown, you’re not going to find it at a BCR. Go to Obelix instead. It’s a bit loud, always fun, and the food never fails to impress. Oh, and it has tablecloths too.
Hors D'oeuvres Cart
Hors d'oeuvres service goes for $25 per person, with things like vol au vents, and bread and a column of butter that’s carved tableside. Sounds impressive, but the rolling cart takes too long to arrive. You’re better off just ordering the $12 baguette separately.
This dish is the antidote to the boring crudos currently haunting Chicago menus. The sheet of raw tuna has a generous sprinkling of salt and olive oil, and is served alongside a caper-studded sauce.
Our objection with the beef tartare is that it comes with flimsy potato chips that are identical to Lays and do not have the fortitude to hold up to the wet pile of meat. The flavors are good, just plan on eating it with your fork.
The Great British Bake Off has seared the horrors of a “soggy bottom” into the collective consciousness. But this savory veal and pork-filled pie overcorrects. The pastry has a tough, burnt bottom that’s hidden by a pool of mustard vinaigrette.
Despite being covered in a red wine sauce, the ribeye is dry. So dry, in fact, we used it as a dehumidifier. True story.
Duck Breast L’Orange
With crispy skin and tender meat, the duck l’orange is a classic dish done right. The syrupy orange sauce comes in a little pitcher, so you can control the amount like the duck breast is an IHOP pancake.
Each dessert seems fresh out of a cooler when it arrives at the table. The coupe mont blanc and the coupe foret noir are in cold little cups, and pastry-based things like the gold leaf-covered giant eclair are stale. The icing falls off in sheets as you take a bite.