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Tosca bought by Spotted Pig (NY) team [San Francisco]

Robert Lauriston Jan 9, 2013 05:39 PM

Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield of Spotted Pig fame have bought Tosca and plan to rebuild the kitchen, make repairs, otherwise keep it the same.

http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2013/01/08/nyc-group-takes-over-tosca-cafe.html

http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/...

  1. monfrancisco Jan 9, 2013 06:19 PM

    I was delighted, and not altogether surprised, that Jeannette found an angel. The place will no doubt change quite a bit and who knows how that will turn out. I knew Ken Friedman (not well) a hundred years ago here in SF, and he is at least well aware of the legacy (if that's the right word) he's taking on. I hope for the best!

    1. steve h. Jan 10, 2013 07:33 AM

      I'm a big fan of the Spotted Pig. San Francisco's already stellar food scene just got a bit better.

      1. smatbrat Jan 10, 2013 03:07 PM

        I have this debate all the time with my friends. Old School SF vs the new.
        I am a nostalgic person and this breaks my heart.
        I am happy that it is saved. Any Tosca is better then No Tosca. But this does not sit well with me.

        and when I juxtapose it with Txoko closing.... it really upsets me

        3 Replies
        1. re: smatbrat
          steve h. Jan 10, 2013 03:20 PM

          I've enjoyed April's cooking at London's River Cafe and I've kicked back many times at the bar at the Spotted Pig in the West Village. It will be a seamless transition with good bar food. April gets this stuff, Friedman has local history. I couldn't imagine a better team to take over the space.

          1. re: steve h.
            soupçon May 17, 2013 04:20 PM

            It will not be a seamless transition. Call me chicken little, but North Beach regulars will avoid it like the plague, and the SOMA/Mission hipsters and the bridge & tunnel crowd will take over. The earth shakes in North Beach when even such a minor event as discontinuing the baskets of free cialde takes place.

          2. re: smatbrat
            cosmogrrl Jan 10, 2013 11:14 PM

            I have to agree with you, glad it's still going to be there, sad that it will change.

            Doesn't sound like there will be too much of a change, but it won't be the same. Sounds like it's going to be more about food rather than a bar.

            Oh well, I'll wander over there soon to bask in it's faded glory very soon. And since I'm in curmudgeon mode, can we call them snacks rather than small plates?! And get off my lawn!

          3. s
            sundeck sue Jan 11, 2013 09:01 AM

            So for one hot second, I'm going to bump this up to a more--what shall I call it?-- philosophical plane.....

            The conflict--wanting a storied place to stay the same vs. being excited about change--is one we struggle with in many domains. It's about memories and time passing and community and more.

            I'm one of those people who periodically and to this day mourns the loss of Maud's Pastry Shop in Haverhill MA, which probably closed sometime in the '60s (I can still taste those sugar cookies).

            I don't have that sort of personal connection to Tosca, but completely get it re those who do.

            At the same time, I'm an April Bloomfield fan; and the prospect of eating her food in SF leaves me giddy with anticipation.

            Just sharing.... :)

            2 Replies
            1. re: sundeck sue
              smatbrat Jan 11, 2013 11:38 AM

              That is a VERY valid assessment. And that is my conflict. My memories, preserving this place as is. Or a new change that might make it better or bring in new people.

              Things I do not want to change: The juke box (not including the stupid sunday free juke box they brought in in the last years). I do not want to see them accept Credit Cards.

              I do not want them to pain the bathrooms.

              1. re: smatbrat
                cosmogrrl Jan 11, 2013 03:30 PM

                They'll probably accept credit cards, even Vesuvius accepts those now, and paint the bathrooms. But I hope they keep that jukebox!

                I just hope that the old school vibe isn't lost, and that it becomes too shiny and new, with just a faint echo of it's special vibe. I'm pretty sick of shiny and new.

            2. smatbrat Mar 8, 2013 03:20 PM

              http://sanfrancisco.grubstreet.com/20...

              1. Robert Lauriston May 17, 2013 02:33 PM

                The Chron reports Saturday will be the last night of business before the renovations.

                http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/...

                2 Replies
                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                  Melanie Wong May 17, 2013 03:41 PM

                  Sunday, not Saturday.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong
                    Robert Lauriston May 17, 2013 05:54 PM

                    I read that as 2:00 am Sunday, I guess she meant Monday.

                2. Robert Lauriston Aug 21, 2013 01:21 PM

                  They posted a help-wanted ad two weeks ago, so I'm guessing they're reopening soon.

                  http://sfbay.craigslist.org/sfc/fbh/3...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                    Cynsa Aug 21, 2013 05:30 PM

                    Reopening after taping a shopping spree at Cookin' on Divisadero to add to decor with a little bit of this and that.

                  2. Robert Lauriston Sep 3, 2013 02:03 PM

                    Inside Scoop reports that Ceri Smith of Biondivino (and briefly Et al.) will be doing the wine list, with Randall Grahm involved in some non-day-to-day capacity. Also says anticipated mid-fall debut.

                    http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/...

                    1. pamf Sep 3, 2013 03:16 PM

                      There's an article about Tosca's past in the September issue of Bon Appetit magazine.

                      1. pane Nov 8, 2013 01:42 PM

                        Loved the food menu; almost everything I tried was good-to-great. Biggest hit, for me, was the smoky flavor and delicate texture of the mussel soup (not really a soup, not a ton of liquid). Fabulous terrine. I'm curious about the "bar sandwich" ($10, no more description offered on the menu, but our server said it doesn't change day to day).

                        I was surprised by how much I didn't love the cocktails. I couldn't find a lot of balance here--we had three cocktails between two people, and every sip I tried was over-sweet, even when I specified that I didn't like sweet drinks. The Diamond Spritz Fizz (aperol, lemon, Dolin, Gran Classico, egg white, prosecco) I couldn't finish; the Trouble in Paradise (bourbon, campari, basil, grapefruit, black pepper tincture) I liked a lot more but was still a touch too sweet.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: pane
                          m
                          Missmoo Nov 11, 2013 10:37 AM

                          Funny thing about the drinks being too sweet. I was in NY this past August and felt the same way about the drinks I had at several bars there. The bartender at ZZ's Clam bar told me that that is a NY/SF thing. We are the land of bitters, they are the land of sweet (relatively of course). Perhaps, it's because the owners are from NY that the drinks were too sweet?

                          1. re: Missmoo
                            s
                            sugartoof Dec 8, 2013 01:40 PM

                            None of their restaurant bars are known for particularly sweet drinks. SF uses bitters to much better success, but NY is equally as biter centric, with bars focusing on bitters alone. The sweetest drinks I've had recently were at SF places like Maven, Trick Dog, and Tradition. All three of those served up drinks that were exceptionally sour or exceptionally sweet - and the opposite of what the bartender described them as. So I think it's an SF thing.

                        2. s
                          sundeck sue Nov 16, 2013 01:37 PM

                          Anyone know how mobbed Tosca Cafe is, late on a weekend?

                          Trying to figure out if we can rely on it (i.e., not too long a wait for a table) for a post-concert meal tonight at around 11 pm.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: sundeck sue
                            pane Nov 16, 2013 03:30 PM

                            When we were there, the server said most people came for drinks, not eats, so the bar area was always crowded but the wait for tables in the dining room hadn't actually been too long.

                            It doesn't seem to me like there are a ton of people in North Beach looking for dinner at 11 p.m., but that's just a guess.

                          2. s
                            sundeck sue Nov 17, 2013 08:41 AM

                            Getting a table @ 11 pm not hard--a few minutes to wait; and the two of us were seated at one of the cool four-top booths. By 11:15 pm, there were tables open; and that was the case for the rest of our meal.

                            A lovely room. Beautiful cutlery and dishes. But oh, the noise (a combo of the bad acoustics of the dining space + the hopping bar). When the server told us the one special, I did a combo of hearing and lip-reading and leaned over to my husband and shouted it into his ear. Because of the difficulties with conversation, I turned to people-watching; and at that hour in that part of town, it was fun--from what looked like two middle-aged couples on dates (serious mid-life make-out session at the booth behind us) to what looked to be hipster restaurant workers after their shift to the blander & blonder & more beautiful twenty-five-year olds at the bar (a challenge, getting to and from the restaurant area through the mob-scene bar).

                            The service was a mix of attentive (servers removed/re-set silverware between courses, re-filled water glasses with frequency, wiped the table after each course even when it didn't need wiping) and spotty (the wait for food, a bit long, esp. for a not-full room). The numbers of staff seemed high to my inexpert eye, both in the open kitchen and on the floor.

                            Steered clear of cocktails, based on reports from this Board. My husband quite liked a sparkling cider. And I was very happy with a glass of the House red.

                            As for the food: we're fans of The Spotted Pig in NYC and The River Cafe in London--we had both wanted to be wow-ed--and we weren't.

                            My husband's livers on a skewer and mussel soup were bright, interesting, well constructed, had pop--but he ultimately felt, overly so (over-salted).

                            Mine were kind of the opposite--the fried artichokes were bland, unless you managed (I didn't figure this out right away) to craft a careful bite that had a bit of all of the sprinkled-over elements (anchovy, capers, dressed greens). And while I enjoyed the polenta with wild mushrooms, it just never took off.

                            We'll for sure try it again. For one thing, we never got to the bar snacks or the second courses or the sweets, all of which looked very good.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: sundeck sue
                              little big al Nov 17, 2013 09:30 AM

                              Were the fried artichokes just hearts (like at county fairs) or whole artichokes (like in the Roman Jewish quarter)? The latter would be worth the noise for me.

                              1. re: little big al
                                s
                                sundeck sue Nov 17, 2013 11:43 AM

                                Funny that you ask this.

                                I assumed the latter. I even thought I saw them on the open kitchen counter. Which is why I ordered them (worth the noise for sure). It was only later than I realized that what I had seen was fennel, not artichoke.

                                Which is to say: they were, alas, the former (county fair version).

                              2. re: sundeck sue
                                s
                                sugartoof Dec 8, 2013 01:50 PM

                                The noise issues, bottleneck crowding, and hit or miss service sound right for the ownership. Can't blame them for the existing acoustics, but there do seem to be similar characteristics amongst all their places which make dining less comfortable.

                              3. Robert Lauriston Nov 28, 2013 11:25 AM

                                Went for drinks early in the evening and after having a few snacks decided to get a table and try more food. Standouts:

                                Crispy pig tails ($9) were braised or roasted and then deep-fried. Fantastic. Sort of a cross between chicharron and oxtail stew with a little slightly sweet and sour saba? sauce.

                                Gardiniera ($5) was by far the best I've had. Wide mix of different veg and pickled perfectly. They should do a muffaletta.

                                Moscardini ($9) was one of the best octopus dishes I've had. So good we ordered a second round.

                                Meatballs ($12 for three) of beef, pork, and guanciale in a tomato sauce that picked up the meaty flavors were great. I was glad we had the butternut squash focaccia ($4.50) to sop up the sauce.

                                Cauliflower ($8) and broccoli di ciccio ($9) sides were great.

                                The pastas ($17) were good if less exciting than the above dishes. Fried artichokes were OK but I probably wouldn't order again.

                                Mostly Italian wine list by Ceri Smith of Biondivino is one of the best in town.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                  grayelf Nov 29, 2013 04:52 AM

                                  Thanks for the tip on the moscardini. Always on the lookout for top octopus preps for the SO ; -)

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                    Robert Lauriston Dec 8, 2013 12:19 PM

                                    Forgot to mention the lovely bespoke china, which for once is something other than Heath.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                      s
                                      SFGourmande Feb 26, 2014 02:49 PM

                                      Right, because Heath is soooo terrible.

                                      1. re: SFGourmande
                                        Robert Lauriston Feb 26, 2014 02:57 PM

                                        Their shop has no wrapping more protective than newspaper and brown paper bags.

                                        1. re: SFGourmande
                                          s
                                          sugartoof Feb 26, 2014 04:31 PM

                                          Heath is great, but that style pottery doesn't always lend itself to all purpose dining so well. If it's possible, the texture seems to effect things. I've felt that way even when food was placed on Heath tiles.

                                    2. m
                                      MagicMarkR Feb 26, 2014 02:28 PM

                                      I paid a recent visit to Tosca a couple weekends ago. had a pretty good meal. Glad I went, but will not rush back --too many other places to try.

                                      We (two of us) arrived a bit early on a Sunday, about 5:30, so the wait was not too long. We were seated at the table that sits squarely in the middle nearest the open kitchen, so we got a fun "show" watching the kitchen staff, expediters, etc. One of the kitchen staff had on some crazy eye make-up that made her look like some kind of ghoul under the service lamps.

                                      Apparently there were specials. I'm being a bit facetious --the waiter did come over to tell us about them. Problem was that, as commented on previously in this thread, it was so noisy, I could only catch every tenth word or so out of the waiter's mouth. He seemed so used to the noise that it did not appear to occur to him to speak up so we could hear anything.

                                      We made a meal out of the antipasti, firsts, veggies and pasta, and did not order any of the "thirds" (the meat/fish).

                                      The antipasti consisted of the Giardiniera, the roasted treviso (radiccio), moscardini (octopus), and the shaved pig ear. Each of these was very good --giardiniera and moscardini were the standouts to me. For me the one exception was the pig ear. It was shaven with vinegar --lightly pickled, I guess. There was a very subtle porcine flavor. My feeling is not that it was bad, but rather, I didn't find much "there" there. Nothing to write home about or to order again.

                                      We then ordered the chicken liver spedini and the market greens. The greens were a salad (really big leaves of lettuce).

                                      We then got the bucatini with tomoto/guanciale and tokyo turnips roasted with marjoram. (One order of each item to share.) I was disappointed with the bucatini --I actually thought they were underdone and chewy, a bit like bubblegum. The sauce was ok, but not great. I expect it was intended to be cooked as it was, since from our vantage point, we observed the cook and the expediter sucking down a strand of pasta for each order that went out. The hit for me were the turnips. perfectly cooked and tossed with a sort of "pesto" made from the turnip greens and marjoram.

                                      And congrats to them for realizing that you can survive as a restaurant without offering kale and beet salad :-)

                                      We finished with a couple scoops of ice cream which were pretty underwhelming, especially since the waiter took 15 minutes to deliver it (half melted --he didn't have them replace it). By that time it was close to 7:30, and the waiter was in the weeds. Service started getting a bit off track. And they do not have decaf espresso! Argh!

                                      All in all, a generally positive experience. But given the option, next time I'll stick with Cotogna just down the street.

                                      1. Robert Lauriston Feb 26, 2014 02:51 PM

                                        I was there on Saturday. First in line so we got one of the little booths. Second two-top got a table.

                                        Pig tails, meatballs, moscardini, gardinera, all as good or better than the first time around. Worth a detour.

                                        Those turnips were great. The marjoram was a clever surprise. The ones we got were marble-sized with the greens left on.

                                        Cauliflower gratin for two was huge, rich, and creamy, could have been the main course.

                                        I would not order the chicken again. The bird itself was roasted perfectly but it was in a Marsala sauce that seemed a bit sweet for my taste. It was served on toast with a thick layer of ricotta, the toast soaked up the sauce and was a soggy mess. The dish made no sense to me. Took most of the meat home.

                                        Some things about the place irk me. They have specials even though they reprint the menu daily. They don't serve plain bread even though they have lots of nice sauces to soak up. They bully you to order everything at once (I'm pretty sure the staff are trained to do that). Wine list is great but some of the markups seem a bit steep. In the future I'll probably skip the dining room and have snacks at the bar.

                                        8 Replies
                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                          m
                                          MagicMarkR Feb 26, 2014 03:25 PM

                                          I'm with you Robert, I would certainly stop by again for drinks and snacks --would like to try the pig tails, and eat more of the giardiniera. unfortunatley, finding a seat at the bar is not easy.

                                          Curious your description of the chicken. From what we observed, it looked like they were trying to copy Zuni: the chickens --which looked perfectly roasted-- were served over beds of lettuce(s). I do not recall seeing the ricotta toast, but maybe I just didn't see it as it passed by.

                                          Their cocktails were original, though as always, I find myself drawn back to the "classics" (martini/manhattan). In fact they seemed like a lot of preparation work for the bartenders --a problem when it gets really busy. The Polo Cup cocktail was quite nice for those who like Mojitos but with the mint toned down a bit and balanced with some cucumber. And I agree that wine markups are a bit steep: $13 for a small-sized glass of Friulian white that was actually pretty underwhelming.

                                          We were not bullied to order all at once, but perhaps because we got there early. The waiter timed things pretty well also, at least until the end. But as I suggested earlier, the quality of service slid noticeably when they got busy and not due to an apparent lack of staff: the number of waitstaff running around multiplied as the evening went on. The number of waitstaff we dealt with expanded beyond out original waiter, but in a rather ad hoc way.

                                          1. re: MagicMarkR
                                            Robert Lauriston Feb 26, 2014 03:45 PM

                                            No lettuce on the chicken plate on Saturday. A few dandelion greens. The soggy ricotta toasts were hidden under the pieces of chicken.

                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                            s
                                            sugartoof Feb 26, 2014 04:37 PM

                                            You mean you ordered starters and asked to hold on to the menu to consider your mains longer? Or are you accustomed to ordering one course at a time, lingering your own pace?

                                            1. re: sugartoof
                                              Robert Lauriston Feb 26, 2014 05:09 PM

                                              I ordered a few appetizers immediately when the server first came by. When I don't know how rich or large the dishes are I prefer to order in stages.

                                              When he came back and I just wanted to order another appetizer or two he told us that the kitchen wanted to have the whole thing ordered at once. I said we didn't want to do that.

                                              When he was taking the order for the next round of dishes he said if we ordered anything else later our ticket would go at the end of the line after everyone else's and might take an hour to come out, so we ordered more and ended up with way more food than we could finish.

                                            2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                              Robert Lauriston Feb 27, 2014 10:44 AM

                                              I wonder if the place not filling up before 8:00 on Saturday is a sign that they're going to need to adjust things on the restaurant side? If they took reservations I bet it would have been full by 6:00.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                j
                                                jaiko Feb 28, 2014 05:15 PM

                                                That's an interesting thought. I know that many restaurateurs hate OpenTable due to cost but also because they see a lot of no-shows.

                                                I saw some OT stats a couple of years ago and there were fewer no-shows in Northern CA, percentage-wise, than anywhere else OT serves. The no-show percentage in NYC was much higher than the Bay Area, I think. I wonder if that affected mgmt's decision?

                                                If Tosca/OT insisted on a credit card deposit for a reservation, that wouldn't stop or bother me. Quite a few restaurants do that nowadays.

                                                1. re: jaiko
                                                  Robert Lauriston Mar 1, 2014 12:31 PM

                                                  I think they're probably just sticking close to the formula that has worked for them in NYC. Neither The Spotted Pig nor The Breslin takes reservations.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                    s
                                                    sugartoof Mar 1, 2014 05:08 PM

                                                    I'll add that both the Breslin and John Dory are prone to a feast or famine of customers.

                                                    They're probably used to the downtime, and also hours when customers don't have to stand around waiting in a cramped bar area. The problem is it's difficult to plan a meal somewhere when there are times you can't even get through the door.

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