The Promontory gets new life as temporary Mexican food restaurant in Hyde Park

Sunday, October 25, 2020
Dormant Hyde Park music venue repurposed into Mexican restaurant
A temporary Mexican food restaurant, El Oso, has opened at The Promontory in Hyde Park.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Promontory in Hyde Park has a temporary restaurant, El Oso, with a focus on Mexican cooking.

Chef Jonathan Zaragoza, a family member of the Southwest Side Birrieria Zaragoza Mexican joint, has given new purpose to a music venue and restaurant that has been prospering since spring.

"The idea was to use the space as I wanted to, and they've afforded me the opportunity to do just that," Zaragoza said.

Zaragoza grew up in a family dedicated to birria goat and he continues the family tradition by adding it on his own menu.

"We steam-cook them first until they're tender, and we marinate them in a black mole; and then we roast them in lard, and then we plate them on of that same mole, Zaragoza said.

The birria dishes are garnished with pickled onions and crunchy peanuts, and they arrive with handmade tortillas for individuals to make their own tacos.

Flautas contain potatoes and garlic, set over a pool of reddish-orange tomato sauce.

"Roma tomatoes are cooked down with onion and garlic and some arbol chile, then pureed and seasoned with salt. We top it with a ceviche Mexicana, which is kind of a cold-hot temperature change there," Zaragoza said.

His tamal is anchored by a brick of ground corn from downstate.

"We're cooking it down with some butter, some milk, kind of like grits style. Then we cook it, finish it with hot sauce and then cotija cheese. Mushrooms and squash are roasted first in some herbs and chiles. Then they're dressed in a cotija mayo, kind of all the flavorings of a Mexican street corn, so it's like creamy and cheesy in the middle; so it's like everything you want in a tamal," Zaragoza said.

The green mole beneath takes hours to make.

"It's a green-seeded mole, tomatillo-based. It has poblano chiles in it, and it's thickened with toasted pumpkin seeds," Zaragoza said.

Zaragoza uses fire to roast sesame and pumpkin seeds. On the comal, he chars onions, tomatoes and garlic to make a traditional dip featuring pumpkin seeds called sikil pak.

"And then we leave them on the side of the griddle to kind of smoke a little bit and get tender, so we can then puree it and season it with some citrus and herbs," Zaragoza said. "We serve it with crunchy vegetables, sometimes carrots, sometimes fennel. Jicama is always gonna be on there because I love jicama, and cucumbers of course."

He also uses fire to slow-roast pineapples which end up in a slushy machine with rum, coconut and corn to create a dark rum float. Aside from frozen drinks, The Promontory also serves the Oaxacan Highball with mescal, cactus fruit and agave. The drinks and food on the menu are meant to reflect the new attitude Zaragoza introduced to the place.

"And that's what we're doing here. Just having some fun," Zaragoza said.

The initial plan was to have a temporary residency in the old Promontory space, but if Zaragoza finds success and the neighborhood supports it, then El Oso might carry on.

El Oso (at the Promontory)

5311 S. Lake Park Ave. W