It’s nice to know that in San Francisco, the old doesn’t get tossed away. It gets recycled, or – in the case of the landmark Tosca Café – a second chance.

This 94-year-0ld North Beach drinking establishment has been known more for its speakeasy décor with dark corner tables perfect for the wheeling and dealing that goes on by local politicians who have come and gone through the years. Whenever I visited in the past, it was always when our group felt a bit of nostalgia and wanted a classic coffee drink or plate of tiramisu.

Food was never a part of Tosca Café’s history, and when the proprietorship changed hands last year, it took a couple of New Yorkers to make food the highlight of this San Francisco institution.

Preserving Tosca
Ken Friedman and Chef April Bloomfield have carefully renovated the Tosca Café, retaining the murals of Italian scenes on the walls and the long bar at the front entryway. They added an open kitchen, which serves as a bright stage for Bloomfield as she works and assembles her dishes for diners.

An open kitchen is one of the new elements at the renovated Tosca Cafe

An open kitchen is one of the new elements at the renovated Tosca Cafe

I had a front-row seat when I dined recently with my other food blogger friends, the gluttinous Sandy of Foodhoe Foraging and the adventurous Tara of Food (and Other Things). Sitting at a table in front of the open kitchen, we saw the kitchen and service team work like clockwork, efficiently moving dishes and clearing tables with precision.

I have to admit that I wasn’t feeling all myself that night, so the menu didn’t seem to speak to me. I felt like there were a lot of meat-heavy dishes that wouldn’t do well for my cholesterol, which always excites Sandy because she always seem to zero in on the dishes that puts my health to the test.

For example, the crispy pig tails ($9) was something she knew she had to order. I can’t tell you much about this dish because I didn’t try it and the darkness of the dining room made it difficult to really see what was happening on the plate. It didn’t look like tails, but more like slices of pork. But Sandy and Tara both loved it – a dish that remains indescribable but good, it seems.

A Bloomfield Fan
I was looking forward to our meal, though, because I had eaten at one of Bloomfield’s New York restaurants, The Spotted Pig, in Greenwich Village and fell in love with her hearty Italian pasta dishes and offal-plenty entrees. She definitely brought the pig-heavy menu to Tosca, but doesn’t seem to offer very much else, other than maybe a bowl of manila clams, one fish entrée, and three salads.

Still, there was much to enjoy, including what could give Zuni Café a run for the money for the title of best chicken dish in the city. Just like Zuni’s classic roasted chicken dish, Bloomfield’s roasted chicken ($42) takes an hour to prepare, and arrives to the table beautifully plated and sitting on a layer of toasted bread with a ricotta spread.

Bucatini ($17) with guanciale and tomato sauce was perfectly cooked

Bucatini ($17) with guanciale and tomato sauce was perfectly cooked

My favorite dish of the night was our pasta selection of bucatini ($17) with tasty guanciale infusing the house tomato sauce with a lot of flavor. But it was the perfectly cooked al dente bucatini that I loved. It had just the right bite, not mushy like you get at many restaurants, making it something you want more and more.

The dessert menu offers a lot of Italian classics like cannoli and tiramisu. But we went with our server’s recommendation, who raved about the buttermilk gelati ($6), which was tart like buttermilk but light and airy. Really more a palate cleanser, which probably was enough for me that night.

The Last Bite
Tosca Café still draws people for its bar and remains a late-night destination, but its kitchen is now beaming with flavorful food and Italian dishes that will keep diners talking for years to come.

Rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps

3-snaps

 

 

Tosca Café, 242 Columbus Ave., San Francisco. PH: 415.986.9651. Open Tuesday through Sunday, from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted. toscacafesf.com

Tosca Cafe on Urbanspoon

Read Sandy’s take on our dinner on her blog, and Tara’s right here.

The interior retains much of the old-time feel of North Beach

The interior retains much of the old-time feel of North Beach

Crispy pig tails ($9)

Crispy pig tails ($9)

The front bar still remains a popular drinking hole

The front bar still remains a popular drinking hole

Dungeness Crab Salad ($13) with grilled little gems, puntarelle, and dandelion greens. It had a citrus vinaigrette with an herbal flavor. The light flavor allowed the crab meat to shine.

Dungeness Crab Salad ($13) with grilled little gems, puntarelle, and dandelion greens. It had a citrus vinaigrette with an herbal flavor. The light flavor allowed the crab meat to shine.

Chef April Bloomfield looking serious while prepping her dishes

Chef April Bloomfield looking serious while prepping her dishes

Special menu item: meatballs in tomato sauce. The tomato sauce had a distinctive herbal flavor.

Special menu item: meatballs in tomato sauce. The tomato sauce had a distinctive herbal flavor.

The roasted chicken comes with roasted potatoes. We also ordered the cauliflower gratin ($18) with a parsley bread crumb layer.

The roasted chicken comes with roasted potatoes. We also ordered the cauliflower gratin ($18) with a parsley bread crumb layer.

Also new is a wall of wine bottles

Also new is a wall of wine bottles

Buttermilk gelati ($6)

Buttermilk gelati ($6)

The busy dining room. Tosca doesn't take reservations, so there can be a wait at peak times.

The busy dining room. Tosca doesn’t take reservations, so there can be a wait at peak times.

Tosca Cafe retains many of its old world charm but with a refreshed kitchen.

Tosca Cafe retains many of its old world charm but with a refreshed kitchen.

 

9 Responses to Review of Tosca Café in San Francisco

  1. Amy says:

    I went to Tosca with a vegetarian and we had a fabulous meal! I was surprised at how many vegetable dishes there were on the menu. I mentioned it to the waiter and he said the chef has a vegetable cookbook coming out this year. Next time be sure to try the fennel antipasti, broccoli, brussels sprouts and beet salad (if it’s on the menu).

    • Ben Ben says:

      True, I always keep forgetting to look at the “sides” section. I guess you could build a meal from that. I definitely need to go back when I’m more focused. ;-)

  2. Sandy says:

    lovely photos as usual! I heard from someone else that the pickled vegetable dish and the Moscardini were not to be missed, but there were so many things on the menu to try. Although next time, I’m getting pasta for sure. From your friend, the gluttinous Sandy

    • Ben Ben says:

      LOL, Sandy, I realized I had a typo and originally said you were my “glutinous” friend, like some kind of mochi. Aiieeee!

  3. This has been on my list for so long! That crab salad looks fab.

  4. Carolyn Jung says:

    Ooh, pig tails! I’ve only had them grilled and they are quite rich and wonderful to tear into. How fun that you got to see April there and that she is manning the place so closely.

    • Ben Ben says:

      It was good to see that she’s manning the ship in these early months. Of course, I bet the blizzards on the East Coast convinces her to stay in San Francisco for awhile.

  5. Tara says:

    Great photos Ben! I loved reading your recap and you got such a great picture of chef Bloomfield. You two will have to take me somewhere again in the future.

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