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