Occupation: Hypnotherapist & Reiki Practitioner
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Big 4 Restaurant
Reviewed Big 4 Restaurant: Friday, April 27, 2012
The Big 4 offers a fine value, particularly when you consider not only the fine food and service, but also the ambience provided by the live piano music and the dim lighting, wood paneling, quiet, easy surroundings, and all the rest of the superior interior!
The food was perfectly prepared and delivered hot (or cold and crispy for the Caesar’s salad) by a pleasant server and actually surprisingly quickly. Their specialty is the pot pie, and it’s the best — wonderfully balanced flavors of light but creamy sauce, large bites of perfectly prepared chicken, English peas, small white onions, and potatoes. There was a balance of ingredients (as in not a disproportionate [filler] of potatoes). The lamb burger was wonderfully spiced with savory spices and cooked just right. The Caesar’s is one of the best with fresh, cold, crispy romaine and just the right amount of garlic in the dressing. The dessert was fresh, light, and very tasty!
The atmosphere of the Big 4 is so welcoming and comfortable. It has the feeling of a private club and they make you feel as if you are an honored member. I will definitely continue visiting the Big 4, whether it’s in the dining room or the lounge.
Occupation: Restaurant Captain
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Wexler’s
Reviewed Big 4 Restaurant: Saturday, May 5, 2012
On this night we had cocktails at our next-door neighbors’, and then they joined us for dinner as we drove to the Big 4. We entered through the lobby of the hotel to find the piano player in the lounge playing some jazz standards. This dining room is a history lesson of not only terribly interesting San Francisco trivia, but also on Westward expansion of the United States. There were many amazing photographs and artifacts from the California Gold Rush.
We had a distinct sense from the start of a very measured and leisurely service style. We ordered cocktails, and everything came in a timely manner, but it was evident people here dine at a slower pace than most restaurants. We started with a lardon salad, then an asparagus bisque, which was vibrant and bright, very spring-like. I would give the lardon salad an 8 out of 10 because it needed a little pepper, or spice to it. The star of the first course was actually the mixed green salad. It had so many beautiful components and was perfectly dressed. Expertly cooked chicken breast and beef cheeks came along with the seared scallops and springtime fava bean risotto. They were all very good and tasty. The chicken was the star of the entree course with a perfectly moist breast and crispy skin.
Executive Chef Gloria Ciccarone-Nehls has evidently been chef at this restaurant for 30 of the 35 years they have been opened. The entire dining room gave a sense of authenticity with the very rich dental molding and darkly lit spaces. The brilliant green leather benches look amazing, and were a little uncomfortable as they set the table so one person would be sitting directly on the seam between cushions.
Dessert came in the form of a duo of crème brûlée’s, Tahitian vanilla, and orange ginger. We had the mountain blue cheese plate that came with fresh fruit. The only thing I would have changed about the meal would be some grilled bread with the cheese rather than crackers and English tea biscuits. The flourless chocolate cake wasn’t mind-blowing and slightly cake-like for a flourless chocolate torte, but good nonetheless. The vanilla ice cream that came with the chocolate dessert was the best I had ever tasted.
We ended the meal with an art tour of the private dining room, and were given encyclopedic descriptions from our waiter, Ron, who has multiple exhibitions currently in San Francisco of photographs he had taken. We had a great time, dined a little slower than usual and enjoyed every minute of it. In sum: measured, clean, and precise service. We had a dietary restriction that was dealt with in a very professional and caring manner. Many of my favorite wines were on the list, like Bandol, Banyuls, and Goldeneye. The one very interesting thing the chef does once a year for a few weeks is feature many different and unusual meats including rattlesnake, squab, elk, moose, eel, and many more. I will look forward to returning for that experience.
Occupation: Graduate Student & Entrepreneur
Location: Los Altos Hills
Favorite Restaurant: Café Borrone
Reviewed Big 4 Restaurant: Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Always, I have doubts about hotel restaurants, especially those that charge entrees in the high thirties. You pay for the atmosphere and for the Nob Hill address at the Big Four inside the Huntington Hotel. You’d never think the economy was struggling after setting foot inside here where the power tier discuss powerful themes over thick cut filet mignon and martinis. The low lighting, plush booths, and English men’s club décor makes diners feel like Stanford, Crocker, Huntington, and Hopkins are arguing railroad business over manhattans in the corner booth. The Big Four had all the makings of being an overpriced, stuffy, lackluster experience in such an amazing dining city.
Yet, there is something special about the Big Four that makes you love it. The clubby air doesn’t rub off on the very friendly servers and hosts, who would be happy to talk all night about the first vineyard he visited ever or why they no longer prepare Bananas Foster. Yes, prices are steep, but this is no Mission district farm-to-table neighborhood bistro. You come here to eat meat or the house specialty, game. The elk was perfectly tender, topped with a lobe of foie gras, creamed spinach, and a superfluous Manchego potato crêpe in a pool of earthy black truffle jus. Equally as spot on, a pair of lamb chops in a cracked pepper Zinfandel sauce impressed, alongside asparagus, and, strangely enough in this land of hefty carnivorous eating, that yoga cuisine favorite: quinoa, studded with apricots and pistachios.
It’s time to eat as much foie gras as possible in California, so we went for the foie gras starter. It happened to be magnificent, with a ginger rhubarb compote and cherry eau de vie syrup. The accompanying brioche helped enhance the richness factor. Only the brûléed pineapple wasn’t perfect, a touch too thin to hold up to the foie gras. The dessert chocolate cake was also only fair, too dry and needing more of a liquid center to liven the occasion.
They just don’t make them like these anymore. The Big Four is what it is. It is not intending to win nor will it win any James Beard Awards. Its prices rival Michael Mina and even Coi or Benu. However, this is a truly a special occasion place. A dinner in the dining room is a must once. The rest of the time, stick to the equally clubby bar and enjoy a Negroni, the finest I’ve ever had. You also get to hear the pianist play there.