The Bristol burger at the Bristol Lounge


Hotel dining rooms play an important role in a city: many big life events transpire or get celebrated there. Over years of visits to the Four Seasons Hotel's Bristol Lounge (200 Boylston Street, Boston, 617.338.4400), I've witnessed world-famous rock stars and movie actors having quiet dinners in the corners, the consummation of dozens of business deals, four generations of a family keeping up a long tradition of a New Year's Eve dinner together, scores of baby and wedding showers, hundreds of job promotion, birthday, and anniversary celebrations - even a marriage proposal on one knee in front of the fireplace. Whether the moment is solemn or joyous, marking it in this genteel, handsome room, with its clubby seating and serene floor-to-ceiling views of the Public Garden, makes it feel more consequential.

Last year's closing of Aujourd'hui, the swank upstairs French restaurant long ranked among the city's best, has made the Bristol even more important: it's now the hotel's only dining option. And while it may not draw raves for its menu overall, it remains famous for one dish: the Bristol Burger ($20). Innovative chefs like Tony Maws at Cambridge's Craigie on Main serve gourmet burgers amped up with admixtures of bavette, short ribs, brisket, marrow, suet, and dehydrated miso. Here, the approach is simpler: an eight-ounce patty of house-ground chuck with about 15 percent fat content, cooked to order (with a serious char) on a high-heat gas grill, then topped with aged Vermont cheddar and served on a sturdy toasted roll. The taste and texture of produce - whole-leaf Boston lettuce, thin-sliced Bermuda onion, fat beefsteak tomato slices, house-made pickles - actually come through with each bite. The excellent skinny French fries are liberally sprinkled with gremolata and a faint dash of truffle oil.

So beautiful and balanced is this burger that you don't mind splurging on a good wine to accompany it. A half-bottle of '06 Ridge Vineyards "Lytton Springs" zinfandel ($45), a softly spicy Sonoma red with a whiff of rustic Brett character, expertly served in quality stemware, might suit. The surrounding comforts - the room's dark woods and burgundy textiles, the waitstaff's vaunted service, the murmur of conversation, the soft music of a live pianist or jazz trio - provide a warm, luxurious wrapper. With the benefit of the Bristol's polish and pampering, this exalted version of a humble American dish feels like a special occasion all by itself.