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Walnut Creek Magazine

High Fives for The Big 4

Sep 17, 2019 09:54AM ● By Fran Miller

BY FRAN ENDICOTT MILLER

Like an Hermès Kelly handbag or a Burberry trench coat, San Francisco’s The Big 4 is a classic – and as any trendsetter or trend follower knows, classics never go out of style. A Nob Hill mainstay since 1976, The Big 4 is and always has been a favorite spot of local luminaries, visiting dignitaries, and those in-the-know. These regulars recognize that no matter how shiny and appealing the city’s newest en vogue restaurant, The Big 4 is always poised to welcome with classic cocktails and a traditional, clubby San Francisco vibe.


Named in honor of San Francisco’s original entrepreneurial foursome - C.P. Huntington, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker – The Big 4 serves as a haven and a cultural antidote to the city’s inevitable changes. Within its mahogany paneled walls, history is captured in historical photographs and in $2 million worth of turn of the 19th century memorabilia. (Tip for history buffs: ask to be seated within waiter Ron Henggeler’s section. The 24-year employee of the restaurant can describe each and every item on display.) It’s this sense of timelessness that is so remarkably appealing. Step through the door at the corner of California and Taylor Streets and the sound of live piano music fills the urbane, dimly lit space. From 5pm to 10pm nightly, patrons are treated to a range of songs, from Great American Songbook standards to current hits. There are no pounding EDM beats here; a civilized decibel level – thanks in large part to low ceilings, textile covered floors and walls, and white clothed tables – allows for easy conversation. 


And though it’s this mannerly hospitality that serves as The Big 4’s calling card, the fresh flowers on every table and classic hunter green leather banquettes would never be enough to keep the crowds coming for the past 40+ years. A great restaurant has to satiate both the psyche and the stomach – and The Big 4 delivers on all counts. From martinis, to Manhattans, to a great selection of wines, thirst is well-quenched. And while you won’t find on the dinner menu the derivation of every tomato and piece of beef, Executive Chef Spencer Wolff sources the same seasonal and local ingredients as those utilized by trendier spots in town. His contemporary comfort food dishes require no grandstanding. A sampling: herb roasted Mary’s chicken breast served over smoked farro risotto with grilled sweet corn, a classic chicken pot pie with sweet vermouth veloute, and a 8 oz. filet mignon with Bernaise. A former acolyte of famed steakhouse guru Charlie Palmer, Wolff knows beef, and this filet is one of the best you’ll find anywhere. 

Wolff is also a certified sommelier, and he will gladly recommend the perfect wine to compliment each of his dishes, such as a Langlois-Chateau Sancerre paired with the halibut special, a Chappelet Cabernet Blend with the filet, or a J Chardonnay with the chicken. 

“My philosophy is to emphasize seasonality, local sourcing, a bit of whimsy with a focus on flavors,” said Wolff. “The storied histories of the Nob Hill neighborhood and The Big 4 are exciting in their own right. The opportunity to create fascinating twists on classic dishes, paired with fine wines that celebrate our California heritage is a blessing.”

East Bay Travelers Tip: For an effortless evening out, take Bart to Powell Street, walk up Powell to Nob Hill, and take a left on California. Linger in beautiful Huntington Park – directly across the street from the restaurant -  pre or post dinner, and reflect on San Francisco’s transcendent energy, and how fortunate it is that spots like The Big 4 remain.  

1075 California St., San Francisco