First Taste: The Promontory

Empty Bottle. Beauty Bar. Longman & Eagle. Dusek's Board & Beer. The eclectic reputation of the gents behind Hyde Park's The Promontory — Bruce Finkelman and Craig Golden — precedes them in a very big way. They've proven themselves pioneers in neighborhoods and areas that were at once unpopular, what with Empty Bottle, Longman, and Dusek's all being frontrunners in the gentrification charge in Ukrainian Village, Logan Square, and Pilsen, respectively. But could they hit a home run again with their biggest, boldest, and potentially riskiest endeavor to date? The Promontory was years in the making; the kind of place you hear about and then forget because it takes forever to come to fruition. More so than prior ventures, the stakes were high for this multi-tiered Hyde Park concept. But after several months in operation, it seems The Promontory has come solidly into its own, with the wherewithal to pave the way for an enormous Hyde Park dining revival. 

Finkelman and Golden are daring risk-takers; something they've proven in the past and continued to display with the gravitas behind The Promontory, which gets its name from Promontory Point park nearby. Not only is The Promontory a restaurant, it's also a music venue and a bar, striated with dining areas, outdoor seating, and concert space. Altogether, it marks an important tentpole along 53rd St., a slick thoroughfare that is quickly becoming the contemporary heart and soul of Hyde Park 2.0, much as Milwaukee Ave. is to Wicker Park and Chicago Ave. is to West Town. This is the spot that encapsulates their passions for music and food together, and the resulting conviviality is palpable. What's also palpable is the hearth-driven cuisine, presided over by Longman and Dusek's vet Jared Wentworth. 


The Promontory
Doughnuts at The Promontory

Walking into The Promontory is like walking into an enormous house party, if that house was a modern cabin palace with a huge central bar, outdoor fire pits, and a wood-burning oven clearly visible from the dining room. Friendly servers and bartenders shimmy to and fro, greeting guests and making diners feel comfortably at home. For a north sider, the trek to Hyde Park typically feels daunting. But once here, the commute is immediately forgotten and everything feels right where it should be. I recommend starting off by sitting at the bustling bar and ordering a drink. The bartenders are quick, precise, and warm, not to mention adept at making suggestions and explaining obscure spirits and such, of which there are several. The cocktail list is the handiwork of Justin Anderson (nee La Sirena Clandestina), who divvies it a chart organized by spirit, each one available as a different cocktail shaken, stirred, or carbonated. The Jack Rose was particularly stunning, a carbonated eau de vie drink made with apple brandy, grenadine, lime juice, and maple syrup, which altogether tasted like boozy apple sauce. Another solid foray into your Promontory experience would be the Hearth Manhattan, infused with hearth-charred vermouth, which provides an aromatic glance at what's to come with your meal. 

Time to eat. The Promontory is an ideal spot for groups, not only in that the sprawling space easily accommodates, but the concise food menu is handily shareable. Artichoke fritters are incomparable snacks to start off with. With a texture and flavor akin to hushpuppies, the slightly sweet and savory fritters pack a heady punch of flavor with a bracing combo of artichoke, piquillo pepper, ramp compote, and charred escarole vinaigrette. Even something as simple and straightforward as a mezze spread with hummus, olive tapenade, eggplant puree, and toasty bread turns out to be stunningly memorable, exhibiting the incredible flavor potential of that hearth oven everyone seems to yammer about. The spring chicken was the only thing I had a quibble about. The chicken itself was fantastic, succulent and tender with a thin patina of crackle along the exterior. It's the "cornbread Roman gnocchi" that really threw me. In no way was this gnocchi. It really only looked like a few pieces of somewhat tepid cornbread, which served merely to gum up my mouth and detract from the rest of the plate. 

For dessert, you can't get any more apropos at a hearth-driven restaurant than s'mores. Here, the s'mores soufflé takes some time to cook a la minute, which is odd because it comes out resembling less a soufflé and more a Little Debbie brownie that was put in the microwave for a minute — I would know, I used to do that A LOT. Aside from being piping hot, it tasted decent, although the flavors of the smoked chocolate and graham cracker ice cream were surprisingly muted. The subtle star of the dessert menu here instead is the doughnut dish, consisting of a hodgepodge of dainty little doughnut holes heaped together like a croquembouche with wildflower honey, orange blossom, rum jelly, and malt rum cream. Some crumbled pralines lend a bit of crunch amidst the doughy fray. For a dessert as tired as doughnuts, The Promontory managed to innovate, which is par for the course at a restaurant that managed to draw on familiar American pastimes and flavors and wildly improve upon them. 

- Matt Kirouac