Chef Daniel Rose can’t stop talking about corn. The ingredient is underappreciated in Paris, where the chef owns and operates the restaurant La Bourse et La Vie. And by default, the sentiment carries over to Le Coucou, his Michelin-starred New York City restaurant serving Parisian bourgeois cooking. “We never permitted ourselves [to use corn] in France when I was cooking in Paris, or even when I was learning, because everybody scoffed at corn in the traditional French register.” But when Rose opens the doors to Café Basque in Downtown Los Angeles tonight, Thursday, December 22, he can finally shuck his heart out: There will be corn on the menu, and chile peppers and tomatoes, too.
The American-born chef, who splits his time between Paris, Chicago, and Los Angeles, views his myriad restaurant projects through a French culinary lens. Rose channels the metropolitan energy of Paris at Le Coucou, while the forthcoming brasserie Le Select in Rose’s hometown of Chicago explores “the relationship between commerce and cuisine.” The chef draws inspiration from Chicago’s historical role as the center of the American meatpacking industry. “A brasserie’s mission is to serve the highest level of food and service to the most number of people,” says Rose. “And that is where the art of cooking and the relation to commerce coincide.”
The chef settled on French Basque cooking for his West Coast debut because of the similarities between the food traditions, temperate climates, and “fun, freewheeling” lifestyles of the two regions. “The idea was to think about which French for what city,” says Rose. “There’s only a few types of cuisine de soleil or sunshine cooking that happens in France. The idea came as a theoretical reflection on the relationship between the Basque sunshine coast, the southwest coast of France, and the coast of Southern California.”
Rose found more parallels between Los Angeles and the Pays Basque — French Basque Country — when he saw the restaurant’s space tucked into the ground floor of the Hoxton hotel. “This building reminded me a little bit of an old hotel from Biarritz,” he says. “It’s got this beautiful ornate Spanish architecture and I thought, ‘We are somewhere on the border between France and Spain.’” With its open kitchen and elongated counter that runs through the dining room, the bones of Café Basque haven’t changed too much since its days as the diner Sibling Rival, which closed earlier this year. AIME Studios/Ennismore updated the interiors to capture “an elegant but easygoing feeling,” says Rose. The chef’s culinary footprint at the Hoxton spans the entire ground floor and even stretches outside to a terrace decked out with umbrellas and festoon and globe wall sconces.
While the dining room only received cosmetic tweaks, the kitchen was completely overhauled to meet the menu’s needs. “We’ve changed all of the kitchen equipment so that it’s more adapted to the kind of cooking we do, which is both rustic, live-fire and then a French-structured approach to cooking,” says Rose.
The menu starts with a sampling of pintxos, including traditional Basque corn cakes (talo) and raw oysters with an Espelette gelée. Larger entrees, like braised chicken with peppers and tomatoes or grilled duck breast with cherry preserves, follow. “The Pays Basque is one of the few places in France where they actively cook with corn and chile peppers and tomatoes in a way that resembles all the products that came from the Americas to Spain,” says Rose. “It really opened up a huge kind of palette of things that I had never been able to cook with before. And of course, they’re all native to here, so they’re even more delicious than the ones we find in Europe.”
Rose leans into what he calls the French way when it comes to ingredient sourcing, which pays mind to locality and seasonality. “By taking the French approach, we hit all those things from deliciousness to ecological responsibility in a way that is really focused on pleasure,” says Rose. Café Basque’s beverage menu includes French-inspired cocktails, beer, cider, and wines from both established and emerging regions.
The chef wants diners to feel like Café Basque is “a second living room,” a place where people can “just be” throughout the day. To that end, the restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch, pintxos, dinner, and weekend brunch in a cool and comfortable setting. Dinner service will debut first, followed by more robust daytime offerings. Rose says there will be “an expression of Southwest [French] cuisine” through every meal period. “I’m very lucky to be in a position where I don’t put anything on the menu to satisfy anyone other than myself and our customers, so we don’t have to make any compromises,” he says.
It takes a tremendous team to run an ambitious all-day venture like Café Basque. Bringing Rose and Boka Restaurant Group’s vision to life is a group of 80 staff members. The workers are employed by Boka, the Chicago group that also owns and operates Cabra on the rooftop at the Hoxton and Girl & The Goat in the Arts District. Rose’s culinary team includes former employees from La Bourse et La Vie in Paris and Le Coucou and La Mercerie in New York. Rounding out the kitchen staff are locally hired chefs and cooks. Hourly pay for front-of-house staff begins at $18.86, while back-of-house wages range from $19 to $26; tips are pooled and shared among kitchen and dining room staff members. All employees accrue personal time off; full-time hourly employees are eligible for benefits after 90 days.
“I think that our mission is to try to remain authentic. We want to please both the experts, as well as the person who just walked in off the street and is like, ‘I’m hungry, I’m thirsty,’” says Rose. “My theory is that many of the French traditions, when they’re done authentically, fill that need and fill that desire.”
Café Basque is open with limited reservations through the holidays. Regular hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., and on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.