May 18, 2021

May 18, 2021

Welcome back, Tosca. (You’ll see the entrance has a new mosaic.) Photo: ©


The bar is all polished up and will be ready to host you soon. Photo: ©


The dining room has been slightly expanded and refreshed. Photo: ©


The famed PDR in the back, full of memorabilia from previous owner Jeannette Etheredge. Photo: ©


Tosca’s jaunty and inviting Shared Space. Photo: ©

At the end of 2019, and just before the beginning of the pandemic, chef Nancy Oakes (Boulevard), restaurateur Anna Weinberg, and designer Ken Fulk took over our treasured North Beach bohemian hangout, ~TOSCA CAFE~, from April Bloomfield, after the horrendous Ken Friedman harassment debacle. Byyyyyyyye.

The new ownership group tried to reopen the restaurant while grappling with the vicissitudes of the pandemic, offering a takeout family meal, popping up as a food truck, and launching outdoor dining (until the second shutdown happened).

It has truly been a rough road for Tosca the past few years, but it has seen a lot in its 102 years. The charming outdoor Shared Space—outfitted with red-and-white checkered tablecloths and plants (plus heaters and blankets)—was able to reopen in March, and as Eater recently noted, Tosca quietly opened its doors to indoor dining last week, giving diners a first look at Ken Fulk’s updated interior.

I know a number of folks wondered how far Fulk’s renovation would go, and if there would be any taxidermy, but after swinging by on Saturday to see it for myself, I was thrilled to see the renovation was delightfully, lovingly restrained, with just the right level of luxurious care the space needed.

After you walk over the new mosaic at the threshold, you’ll see the beautifully polished Deco bar, and even though the imposing espresso machine is no longer there (which they only used to steam drinks in the past, hilariously, but the owners are reportedly on the hunt for another one). You’ll find the classic House Cappuccino on the cocktail menu of seven Italian-influenced drinks, including a Negroni (of course), a couple spritzes, and an Italian Nightcap.

You can also enjoy a glass of wine off of Shelley Lindgren’s (mostly) Italian list, with some Champagne and Napa Valley wines on there, too. Bar seating will be returning soon, but for now, there are two-top tables across from the bar along the wall, just below where a new mural is going to be installed—the artwork that was hanging there was moved to the dining room.

Everything looks freshened up (but not too too), from the buffed black-and-red checkered vinyl floor to the reupholstered red banquettes in leather and updated light fixtures. The dining room is a touch larger since they took out the wine wall to the right of the dining room (which also led to a second entrance to the private dining room in the back).

About that amazing PDR: Fulk added some damask wallpaper, but all the incredible memorabilia from the illustrious former owner Jeannette Etheredge was all painstakingly put back exactly as it was, from the Nureyev poster to the one of Paris, Texas to all the personal photos. (And the infamous bullet hole in the wall from Sean Penn remains, which he denies to this day.) You can rent out the room for dinner for 18, or a standing reception up to 30.

There’s also the chef’s lounge, which is tucked away above the kitchen, and while it’s still being updated, I got a sneak peek of the red curtains, walls, ceiling, and new light fixtures—it’s all very bordello chic. There will be room for 8-10.

As for the dinner menu, executive chef Nancy Oakes and chef de cuisine Bam Liu are offering a decadent raw bar, with oysters with Sambuca mignonette and anchovy cocktail sauce (wow), and caviar with potato skins and burrata. There’s a fried green tomato caprese, grilled marinated artichokes with ‘nduja and breadcrumbs, asparagus risotto, and gnudi cacio e pepe, plus some Tosca meatballs, Tuscan fried chicken, lamb ragù, and a Flannery Beef bone-in ribeye for two. There is an optional and prepaid $75 prix-fixe menu as well. It reads like the perfect, seasonal San Francisco-meets-updated-North Beach menu. For now, dinner is served Thu-Sat 5pm-10pm.

A fun new addition is Sunday brunch, something unique and special for the neighborhood. While the outdoor Shared Space is an ideal brunch location, the restaurant is actually filled with a fair amount of light during the day. The brunch menu includes baked eggs and their housemade focaccia, polenta pancake, and a Tosca smash burger (there’s an optional $45 prix-fixe menu), plus a Sicilian Bloody Mary with pepperoncini, benissimo. Served Sun 11am-4pm. 242 Columbus Ave. at Broadway.


Tony Gemignani outside his new North Beach bakery, Toscano Brothers. Photo: ©


Dago Bagel at Toscano Brothers bakery. Photo: ©


A selection of breads at Toscano Brothers. Photo: ©


The classic interior of Toscano Brothers. Photo: ©

Our local obsessive of all things pizza and dough, Tony Gemignani, has branched out his field of floury expertise to include bagels, baguettes, and Italian breads at his recently opened North Beach bakery, ~TOSCANO BROTHERS BAKERY~. I’ve been watching him on Facebook get his mixers and stone mill and oven moved in during the pandemic, and the upbeat mint exterior gives me vintage Vesuvio Bakery in New York vibes.

In this new space, he’s now making all the dough for his SF pizza places (Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, Slice House, and Capo’s), and has expanded his repertoire by bringing bagels and breads to the neighborhood. During a recent visit to check out the space, he said it was a shame there was no longer bread being made in North Beach, and he wanted to change that. He was originally going to do something in the former Italian-French bakery space, but when that didn’t pan out, he ended up converting this unique spot instead (it has a mezzanine level).

He has a close and ongoing relationship with Keith and Nicky Giusto of Central Milling in Petaluma (who provided him with their 40-year-old starter for this venture), and he also collaborates with his attorney, Adam Sachs, who is a fellow pizza dough whiz and has been working with Tony on the bagel R&D. Tony has been wanting to make bagels for a long while, and it was definitely something North Beach was lacking. What he didn’t know was a verbal altercation with a problematic neighbor would inspire the name of the bagel part of his business: Dago Bagel. It’s a derogatory term for Italians you thankfully don’t hear so much anymore, but after it was fired his way as an insult from a neighborhood crank, Tony decided to turn it around and own the slur. It’s certainly one way to deal with name-calling.

As for the bagels, they’re New York-style (they’re rolled and twisted by hand, and boiled in liquid malt in a kettle) and baked on custom-made, burlap-wrapped pine boards in his special Cuppone panettone deck oven imported from Italy (the first in the U.S.), which they are still fine-tuning—there are some issues with the steam injectors, but he’s still managing to bake some magic with it. The bagels are tight, with a chewy and crusty texture, and a deep golden bake. The Bay Area difference is the fantastic and freshly milled flour he’s using, giving these bagels that extra, quality touch—they are naturally leavened, with a little bit of rye.

They come in plain, Maldon salt, poppyseed, sesame, everything, and he even made blueberry for a minute (they’re $2.50-$2.75). You can order in-house schmears (including a delicious honey butter) and smoked salmon to go from the counter, plus toppings for customers to build their own bagel sandwiches. They sell out around lunchtime, so don’t lag (they’re currently doing 400 bagels a day).

As for the bread bakery, that falls under the Toscano Brothers name, offering chewy baguettes (instead of total roof-of-the-mouth scratchers), pagnotta (with cured black olives and rosemary Tony grows on the back patio), and the surprise creation: a sour cherry and chocolate sourdough batard that has a hint of Maldon salt—it’s the perfect afternoon snack, and you’ll want to warm this up for breakfast with some butter. (Tony is experimenting with some other ingredients, too.) All the breads are naturally leavened sourdough, and he’s using freshly milled flours from Central Milling Co. for his own sourdough mix, as well as doing some milling in-house, including a spelt flour he’s adding to the pagnotta.

You’ll also notice some pre-made panini stacked on the counter, simply made with salami, prosciutto, or mortadella, with provolone, and a drizzle of olive oil inside. This is the perfect panino: a few ingredients on fresh bread, what more do you need? It’s marvelous.

The next phase to the bakery will be Antonio’s Pastries—he’s working on what that lineup will be, so that’s something to look forward to. In the meantime, you can join the folks standing in line for their bread and bagels, and you can grab an espresso (featuring coffee from Caffe Trieste—he likes to keep things extremely local), and have your moment for a little banter or a hello with Tony, who really is a fixture in the neighborhood. It’s wonderful to see so many people who say hello, and he has a little backstory on everyone, whether they’re a well-known photographer or work at a neighborhood restaurant. I commend Tony for his appreciation and upholding of old-school values and what makes a good neighborhood, and that’s taking care of your community. Open Thu-Sun 8am-3pm (or until sold out). 728 Vallejo St. at Powell.


The new Empress by Boon. Photo via Empress by Boon’s Facebook page.

A big, glam opening is the upcoming ~EMPRESS BY BOON~, in the iconic Empress of China space on Grant Avenue in Chinatown, a project announced back in the fall of 2019. Chef Ho Chee Boon (Hakkasan) will be offering an upscale and modern Cantonese experience, and doors open June 18th. It has fantastic views, and is such a unique location—we’re lucky to have a restaurant and bar return to the space.

I’ve been following this project through pics and hints on Instagram, but hope to have more details on the opening $68 prix-fixe menu (featuring organic ingredients from their farm in Gilroy) and dramatic interior by UK-based design studio Atelier LLYS soon. A post on Food & Beverage Magazine mentions, “Chef Ho has assembled a core executive team of experienced professionals, including general manager James Minch; pastry chef Rory MacDonald, formerly of Dessert Bar, Gordon Ramsey and Hakkasan; Haley Moore, CEO and founder of Acquire, who will oversee the wine program; Emily Parian as bar manager and crafter par excellence of unique, alluring cocktails; and private events manager Elissa Ma. Macdonald will offer a curated dessert menu that will complement and enhance Chef Ho’s modern Cantonese menu.”

Reservations are open. Dinner will be served Mon-Sat 5pm-10pm. 838 Grant Ave. at Clay.


The cheerful front dining room and bar at Otra in the Lower Haight. Photo: ©


The bar is ready to pour you a Smoky Paloma or Mezcaroni. Photo: ©


The tropical mural by Rachel Sager in the mezzanine dining area. Photo: ©

I’m beyond excited to have a new bar and casual Mexican restaurant in the Lower Haight, a mere 15-minute walk from my place for quality cocktails and tacos and tostadas, hubba. Meet ~OTRA~, from Nick and Anna Sager Cobarruvias of the Mission’s Son’s Addition. They live in the neighborhood and are excited to (finally) open something there after some pandemic delays—they softly opened in the beginning of May (first reported by Eater).

The former SushiRaw space been transformed into a cheerful hangout, with 49 seats available at the window counter, at tables in the front dining room or up on the mezzanine, and at the gleaming bar with bottles of mezcal and tequila—there’s also a heated and protected Shared Space out front. Designer Dan Vickery commissioned Rachel Sager to create a tropical 50-foot mural on the mezzanine (which will be a great space for private events), and a tiled floor is coming soon. There are ornate mirrors, some lovely family photos, walnut tables, and various shades of punchy blue, from the Mid-Century inspired bar chairs to the ceiling covered in papel picado (tissue paper banners).

Nick is digging into his family playbook of flavors and recipes (his grandfather came to the U.S. in 1918 from Jalisco), folding in some inspiration from a couple trips to Oaxaca, while nixtamalizing and grinding his own masa for the tortillas (using heirloom corn sourced from Masienda), and weaving in that seasonal Bay Area thang, offering a number of vegetable-driven dishes, including roasted sweet potato or hen of the woods tacos, and roasted carrot or grilled asparagus tostadas ($11-$12). (There are also slow-cooked beef tacos in guajillo chile, and cod tostadas.) There’s kampachi aguachile (with charred habanero-miso-lime), beer-steamed mussels with house chorizo, and charred cabbage with smoked bone marrow and toasted pecan dukkah (sign me up—I’m seeing some pent-up creativity getting unleashed here). There are some larger plates as well, including a pork tenderloin, and Nick’s pozole is coming soon—and you’ll note a number of housemade salsas, including their peanut salsa macha. Menu here.

There are seven well-made but uncomplicated cocktails designed to please ($12), plenty of quality mezcal and tequila pours to try, and all wines are Old World and $13, with five beers to choose from (including local Barebottle and Standard Deviant). Hours are Sun-Thu 5pm-10pm, and until midnight Fri-Sat. Brunch will be coming, a welcome addition to the neighborhood. 628 Haight St. at Pierce.


A selection of dishes from the new Shokudou. Yelp photo by Jewel S.


The Bay view at the new Harmonic Brewery taproom at Thrive City. Photo: Ruben O’Malley.

Just after my last newsletter went out, tablehopper reader Karen Z. let me know about a new opening in Bernal, ~SHOKUDOU~, serving izakaya-style skewers and dishes, chirashi, nigiri, and more, in a former hair salon! You can read some background in this piece on Eater—the owner (chef Stewart Chen) is behind Umi in Potrero. Indoor dining or takeout only. Open Sun-Thu 5pm-9:30pm, Fri-Sat until 10pm. 1000 Cortland Ave. at Folsom.

Superstar Karen also let me know that Francisca’s in the Mission has been replaced by ~EL HONDURAS~ (previously El Rinconcito), serving traditional Honduran dishes, like baleadas (a thick tortilla filled with refried beans, avocado, crema, cheese, and eggs), pollo con tajadas (plantains), and mondongo soup on Sundays. 3047 Mission St. at Cesar Chavez.

There’s a new, plant-based/vegan Mexican restaurant that opened on downtown’s Belden Place from chef Evette Mercado called ~VIDA CANTINA SF~. Take a look at the menu here, and there are cocktails and a happy hour from 5pm-6:30pm. Open Wed-Sat 5pm-9pm. 56 Belden Pl. at Pine.

The former Baker Street Bistro space in the Marina is now ~CÔTE OUEST BISTRO~, from owners Laurent Monchicourt and chef Martin Sarrailh (Le Garage). Hoodline reports they’re serving lunch, dinner, and brunch Wed-Sun. The menu includes some French bistro classics and Basquaise specialties. They updated the space, and there’s an outdoor terrace with bistro chairs as well. 2953 Baker St. at Lombard.

Fans of the former (and affordable) ~DIM SUM CLUB~ on Van Ness should know a new location has opened in Parkside. Open daily 11am-3pm and 5pm-9pm. 2237 Taraval St. at 32nd Ave.

Cruising across town, ~HARMONIC BREWERY~ opened their new Mission Bay taproom at Thrive City/Chase Center, just a mile from the brewery. You’ll find fresh and hand-crafted brews, bar food from nearby Neighbor Bakehouse (including San Francisco-inspired Sicilian pizzas), wine, and a great view (there is a spacious patio, and plenty of room inside as well). Check @harmonic_thrivecity for soft opening dates and times (open on all Chase Center event days). 1 Warriors Way.

Over in the Metreon, the first SF location of ~BONCHON~, known for their made-to-order Korean fried chicken around the world, is now open for dine-in, takeout, and delivery. Open daily 11:30am-8pm. 135 4th St. at Mission.


SF Chicken Box bounty. Instagram photo via @sfchickenbox.

Here are some updates on projects that are coming soon, starting with the move of Christian Ciscle’s ~SF CHICKENBOX~, a favorite of fried chicken lovers (real ones know). SFC has been operating alongside The Brew Coop on Valencia in the Mission, but now that’s all finished as he prepares to have his very own digs in North Beach in a former pizza place on Broadway. SFC is conveniently going to be close to 15 Romolo and Specs and Vesuvio, so you know where to grab a fried chicken box or fried chicken sandwich after a night of drinking (soon). Will keep you posted on timing. 464 Broadway at Kearny.

Chef Eric Ehler has been running his verrrrry popular ~OUTTA SIGHT~ New York-style pizza slice pop-up out of Fig & Thistle in Hayes Valley (previously at Pizzahacker), and has announced a location for his slice shop has been secured. I wasn’t able to get any details from him yet, except it’s in Hayes Valley, so yay and stand by.

A tablehopper reader let me know some remodeling was happening at the former Mauerpark location in the Castro, and an ABC license notification reveals it’s a brick-and-mortar location of ~SPRO COFFEE LAB~, an espresso truck located in Mission Bay’s Spark Social. Hoodline has details, sharing the news that husband-and-wife team Rich Lee and Liza Otanes plan to open the café in June or July. They’ll be serving specialty coffee drinks with a focus on quality and flavor, from simpler to barista-competition-level drinks. There will also be café fare (salads, sandwiches, toasts) and housemade pastries, plus beer and wine, whenever that happens. 500 Church St. at 17th St.

Hoodline also mentions a pastrami sandwich shop, ~HOT JOHNNIE’S~, will be opening this summer in the former Nizario’s Pizza from Jonathan Young, who will be smoking his own pastrami. 4077 18th St. at Castro.

I have been noticing some updates at the former ~BISTRO CENTRAL PARC~ location on my neighborhood walks, and SF Biz Journal confirms the new owner is Bayram Evsen, who will be reopening with a French menu, plus some Italian dishes (he worked at his father’s Italian restaurant in San Carlos). 590 Central Ave. at Grove.


It has been beyond distressing and deeply heartbreaking to witness the Covid crisis that keeps unfolding in India, and some local restaurants are rallying to help raise money to support relief efforts by The American India Foundation. Even when our beleaguered restaurants are suffering from the pandemic’s toll this past year, they are still coming together to donate 50 percent of their sales on Tuesday May 25th.

Restaurants participating in Dining for India include Amber India (San Francisco, Los Altos, San Jose), Aurum (Los Altos), Besharam (San Francisco), Bhoga (San Francisco), Broadway Masala (Redwood City), New Delhi (San Francisco), Rooh (San Francisco) and Rooh (Palo Alto). Whether you dine in, order takeout, or delivery, 50 percent of food sales will be donated. Thanks in advance for your support of this fundraising night.

I also want to call attention to this fundraiser for a local bartender, Paul Wakefield, who was tragically hit by a car on his bike after finishing a shift at Driftwood in SoMa on Sunday evening (May 9th). His condition is reportedly “stable and non-life threatening, but his head injury is very serious,” and his path to recovery will require help from the community. Best wishes to Paul and his friends and family.

We owe a lot to everything CUESA has done to support our farmers, restaurant industry, and community during the pandemic, and a great way to show your gratitude will be reserving a picnic basket for CUESA’s Summer Picnic on Sunday June 13th. 30 restaurants, bars, breweries, and wineries will be contributing locally grown and made goodies to the basket, available for home delivery or pickup at the Ferry Building (If you opt to pick up, they’ll have some outdoor seating and a DJ, making it a picnic party).

Each picnic basket includes everything you need for an extravagant summer lunch for one, with seven sweet and savory bites and five seasonal beverages. Choose from three different summer produce themes (Berries, Stone Fruit, or Cucurbits) representing the best of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Unlock discounted pricing per picnic basket when you purchase multiple baskets and host a picnic party with your pod; tickets and pricing here!

Here are a couple cocktail events: 18 Reasons is hosting their first cocktail (and hopefully last virtual) spring fundraiser, Libations for Liberation, on Thursday May 20th. All proceeds will benefit 18 Reasons’ free Cooking Matters program for low-income families, which offers grocery donations paired with live, hands-on cooking and nutrition classes to more than 3,500 households each year.

Alta Journal is hosting a happy hour event, Alta Live @ 5, on Wednesday May 26th at 5pm on Zoom. It’s free, but the optional cocktail delivery from Rye on the Road is $50. Michael Bauer and Alta contributor Nicholas Mancall-Bitel will talk locally sourced cocktails with Greg Lindgren of Rye on the Road.

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