From its incomparable perch on the 29th floor of the Four Seasons in Harbor East, Bygone brings to Baltimore an exhilarating level of food, drink and ambience.
This uplifting space is the latest project of Atlas Restaurant Group, the company that has already enlivened Harbor East with such acclaimed venues as Azumi and Ouzo Bay. Bygone, with one foot neatly planted in the past, the other very much in the now, may well top them all.
The place makes you feel better about Baltimore and its future. Stepping off an elevator run by a real, live operator — can’t get much more bygone than that — and taking in the sweeping vistas delivers a rush strong enough to cure even the most severe symptoms of post-Amazon snub syndrome.
An homage to yesteryear permeates Bygone’s menu, which boasts such golden-age classics as lobster Newburg and Dover sole meuniere. There’s something retro, too, about the gold-rimmed dishes and rounded martini glasses.
And for the ultimate in turning back time: a dress code. That quaint custom might strike some folks as insulting (they’ve been venting on social media), but will come as a welcome reassurance to the rest of us.
Bygone isn’t just some upscale nostalgia feast. There is plenty of contemporary flair from the kitchen, as well as in the dining room and bar, designed with a keen eye for color and texture by Bethesda-based Streetsense. (The subtly glowing bar, with its library-like mezzanine filled with more than 700 whiskeys, is itself worth a visit.)
It all adds up to class without the attitude.
Bygone staffers operate on a team model, so you’ll get to meet quite a few of them in the course of a meal. Our primary server could not have been more engaging or helpful. Her colleagues likewise demonstrated as much charm as efficiency. (You’ll be offered mini-flashlights if the romantically low lighting poses a challenge to reading the menu.)
Although Bygone will easily indulge your urge to splurge ($195 shellfish platter, anyone?), you can navigate the options economically — OK, reasonably.
There are cocktails under $20, for example (judging by the old fashioned and gimlet we tried, sweetness seems to be favored at the bar — another throwback, perhaps). Same for wines by the glass. By the way, Bygone’s sommelier is happy to help you choose, even if you’re not opting for a bottle. Our very agreeable wine choices included an uplifting red blend produced deep in the heart of Texas wine country.
The kitchen is guided by executive chef Matthew Oetting, whose career was seasoned in New York and Miami before he headed Loch Bar, another Atlas enterprise. It was clear from the first course just how serious Bygone is about dishing out quality.
The scallops bourguignonne exuded a rich, but not excessive, buttery flavor; a mini-baguette, formed like a bridge over the iron pot, proved irresistible. The giant, juicy crustaceans in the shrimp cocktail turned that routine dish into something stellar, accompanied not just by traditional cocktail sauce, but also by a deft lemon aioli.
The crab Louie salad boasted sizable bites of first-rate crab, their freshness complemented by perfectly crisp romaine, avocado and egg in a Caesar-like dressing.
Seafood entrees include three preparations of lobster. The Newburg version didn’t hit a knock-your-garters-off peak, but there still was plenty to savor in the tender, meaty lobster, bathed in a creamy, subtly spiced sauce. Although we weren’t convinced that French fries made an ideal complement to such a dish, they sure were tasty.
Bygone clearly knows top-notch beef and how to prepare it. A generous portion of prime rib roast, modestly marbled with fat, was cut-it-with-a-fork tender and received just the right zing from a peppery coating. The finishing touch was a fine brisket jus (applied a tad too copiously tableside by a staffer).
Even more memorable was the 16-ounce Delmonico steak, a thick filet of such superb texture and flavor that it needed nothing extra. Not that we’re complaining about the elegant maitre’d hotel butter thinly spread on it. Horseradish and a sweet-and-snappy steak sauce also were provided. Sharing the plate were slices of terrific beefsteak tomatoes.
Our picks of side dishes — duchess potatoes with Gruyere, roasted Brussels sprouts with brisket — proved resistible. Both could have benefited from a subtler blend of ingredients.
But any minor letdowns were instantly reversed by the desserts.
Baked Alaska provided another nod to days gone by, offering sweet contentment from its meringue-coated raspberry ice cream and complement of hearty shortbread. A perfectly poached pear, alive with cinnamon flavor, enjoyed the company of a chestnut financier, pomegranate gastrique and ethereal creme fraiche sorbet.
And then there was the chocolate torte, a masterful concoction with a wafer-like exterior and lush center, all brimming with rich hazelnuts accents. On top, more chocolate created a skeletal bit of decorative sculpture, finished with the ultimate in decadence — edible gold.
As I consumed that gleaming, tasteless wisp of a precious metal, I suddenly felt like a member of the 1 percent, blissfully removed from any cares or woes 29 stories below. And that sensation filled me with such guilt I was ready to seek out a 24-hour confessional.
In the end, though, I just let Bygone be Bygone and happily surrendered, as I did all evening, to the surpassing charms and talents of this culinary aerie.
Rating: 5 stars
Where: Four Seasons, 400 International Drive., Harbor East
Contact: 443-343-8200, thebygonerestaurant.com
Open: Dinner: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.* Lunch: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday. Brunch: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: Appetizers $10 to $32; entrees $24 to $95; chilled seafood $12 to $195 (for shellfish platter); caviar $200 to $280 per ounce.
Food: Classic American
Noise/TVs: Subdued noise level; wonderfully television-free.
Service: Adept, attentive and amiable.
Parking: Valet, garage, street.
Special diets: They can be accommodated.
Reservation policy: Accepts reservations.
Handicap accessible: Yes
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star.]