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The Big 4 is closing (and we don’t know if it’s forever)

The bar at the Big 4 (photo: designersraum.com)

Big news on Nob Hill: It looks like this will be the last holiday season we’ll be able to spend in the Big 4 (1075 California Street, 415-771-1140) as we know it. The new owners of The Huntington Hotel, Grace International (a Singapore-based company) have announced they will close the 66-year-old hotel and the Big 4 from Jan. 4, 2014 to spring of 2014 for a $15 million remodel. Details are sparse: Is it a massive renovation? Will the piano remain? What is to become of chef Gloria Ciccarone-Nehls and her annual Big Game Dinners? What about all the amazing artifacts? There’s a whole lotta history in that dining room. All I do know is I am going in for one last cocktail (or two), and really hoping it stays with us. Yes, parts of the bar and the dinning room could benefit from some updating, but there’s a lot that really shouldn’t be touched (I hope the owners take a page out of the recent Tosca playbook).

But in the good news department: Can you believe that after five years of laying dormant, that someone is restoring Julius’ Castle (1541 Montgomery Street) on Telegraph Hill? The new owner is Paul Scott, a resident of Telegraph Hill, not some techie who wants to convert it into the ultimate playpen, but someone who wants to restore the place to its former glory. I’m thrilled to hear this historic location (since 1922!) is going to get another run out on the track — that bar was fabulous (and a favorite of my grandfather’s). Stand by for updates.

Some fresh blood on Russian Hill: Now open in the former Luella is Stones Throw (1896 Hyde Street, 415-796-2901), featuring Cal-American cuisine from chef Jason Halverson (Michael Mina). He is partnering with general manager Ryan Cole, also an alum of the Mina Group, plus Jason Kirmse and Cyrick Hia (Fat Angel), and front-of-house and operations partner Tai Ricci (SPQR, Michael Mina). There are some good bar snacks, tasty starters like sunchoke soup or squid ink conchiglie pasta ($12–$16), and mains (from duck breast to chestnut ravioli, $16–$29). The beer list is amazing, and the wine selections are also appealing and well priced. The 49-seat space is casual and has an 11-seat bar, so it’s an easy place to swing by. There’s a bright yellow exterior, so you can’t miss it.

Update on what’s opening in the former Marbella/Rex Café: Verbena (2323 Polk Street) is coming in mid-December from Berkeley’s Gather crew. Chef Sean Baker will create a menu of contemporary seasonal California cuisine, and wine director Michael Ireland (French Laundry, Quince, Restaurant at Meadowood) will pair wines (his list will be very producer-driven).

The space is 2,200 square feet and will have room for 58, plus 12 seats in the upstairs mezzanine, and eventually (they hope) room for 16 at outside tables. Abueg Morris Architects (Nopalito, Comal, Hi Lo BBQ, Roam) are behind the renovation. Verbena will serve dinner nightly, plus weekend brunch.

Now open on Nob Hill is Ala Romana (1098 Jackson Street, 415-292-3699), an enoteca and pizzeria in the former Rue Saint Jacques location by Lorenzo Logoreci of nearby Allegro Romano. Chef David Taylor (A16) has put together a Roman-inspired menu (think antipasti, pizza, pasta, and some meaty mains).

Let’s scoot over to Cow Hollow. Freshly open in the former City Tavern space is Sabrosa (3200 Fillmore Street, 415-638-6500). Chef José Ramos, who was a founding chef at Nopalito and has been at Nido in Oakland until recently, helms this Mexican restaurant. He is joined by partners Andy Wasserman, Hugo Gamboa, and Adam Snyder (Redford and The Brixton), and San Diego barman Matt Stanton. Look for a lively bar scene, but the place will be grounded with Ramos’s home-style, ingredient-focused cooking. The food will be seasonal, local, and not completely traditional, but built around recipes from Ramos’s mother, grandmother and aunt. There’s a large, 24-seat bar, a communal table for 12, and outdoor seating.

Over in Laurel Heights, Nico (3228 Sacramento Street, 415-359-1000) is now open, serving contemporary Cal-French cuisine, featuring local, seasonal, and foraged ingredients and modern cooking techniques. Nicolas and Andrea Delaroque are behind the project; French-born Nicolas has worked at Manresa, Atelier Crenn and Coi. The intimate space is full of wood, stylish but casual (no tablecloths), with a small pewter bar at the front and a mohair banquette along the wall. The wine program is of note as well.

Happy Holidays/buone feste to all!

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Marcia Gagliardi is the founder of the weekly tablehopper e-column; subscribe and get more food news and gossip at www.tablehopper.com. Follow her on Twitter: @tablehopper.

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