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May 18, 2013 08:07 PM

Comstock Saloon + Tosca Café [North Beach, San Francisco]

Thursday was a fine evening to play tourist in North Beach. Shown here, the trio of Doggie Diner heads we spotted parked on Columbus Avenue in front of Vesuvio.

We caught happy hour and a light supper at Comstock Saloon making a res through Opentable. The area around the booths in the bar was too crowded to attempt with a wheelchair. Instead, our party of three scored the small round table in the front window of the dining room, the best seats in the house. The intersection of Columbus, Pacific and Kearney is a great crossroads for people-watching. My friend said in less than two hours he spotted more folks he knew from this perch than he’d see in more than a week in San Francisco.

Happy Hour drink specials, $6, were the Derby cocktail – a refreshing rye-based drink with lime juice and mint - or combos of a shot + beer chaser. For Mom, a not-too-sweet fresh lemonade, $4. No discounts on food.

We ordered:

BBQ chips and ranch dressing, $5 – Housemade chips, very thin and crackly making them not much different from Lay’s, somewhat less salty and oily. Very good ranch dressing with a pronounced zesty snap of buttermilk served up in overly generous portion, wish I’d taken the remainder home.

Hangtown toast, $10 – One of the signature appetizers here, a deconstructed homage to Hangtown fry. No pickling detected in the slices of pickled eggs layered on thin slices of burnt and overly hard toast, drizzled with oyster dressing and topped with slivers of bacon and served with a side of very finely shredded, tangy slaw.

Fava bean and chickpea hummus, $7 – Light and lemony with a whiff of mint and the rich tones of favas shining through, served with fresh snappy fennel, celery and carrot sticks, and again, burnt-to-black toast. Yet, we agreed this was the best dish of the meal.

Rabbit three-way, $18 – A lot of protein on this plate: lightly seasoned battered chicken-fried chunks of tender and moist loin, crispy browned rillettes on toast (not burnt) and a rubbery herb-y terrine served with a celery and fennel peppery-dressed salad. All so subdued, nothing really popped.

Duck pot pie, $18 – Subtle rather than hearty seasoning, runny gravy bathing diced roast duck and root veggies, rich buttery flaky pastry (bottom was underbaked and doughy) served with sautéed shoots of broccoli di ciccio. Our vote for second best dish of the night.

The dishes were all very fresh-tasting, and surprisingly not salty nor greasy pub-style. Tab for three, including lemonade and three happy hour drinks, tax, 4% “SF Health” charge, and tip came to $105. More than fair value for what we got. Perhaps if this had been more of a drinking night, the food offerings would have more appeal accompanied by extra rounds of Comstock’s fabled cocktails.

After Comstock we headed across the street to Tosca Café (cash only) for the signature coffee drinks and one last look before it changes hands on Monday. Have I been in here in the last decade? Not sure. This night I studied it with new eyes, from the gleaming coffee urns on the bar to the red booths with firm u-shaped seats held together with tape, filing away the visuals in the memory banks for ready recall and comparison with the future new reveal.

Tosca’s House Cappuccino: Ghirardelli chocolate, steamed milk and brandy, is only $6. I bet we won’t see that price again.

Then, one last lingering look at part of the jukebox’s unparalleled play list before we said “good night”.

* * * *
Tosca bought by Spotted Pig (NY) team

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  1. Was the Comstock drink special decent? I love a good happy hour, but they just feature some basic rye and citrus juice combo that I worry isn't going to give me a real sense of their drinks.

    Tosca...I dread the design changes. I'm not sure I'm ready for hunting lodge furnishings, and scotched eggs, or artichoke dip at Tosca. Happy it's not closing at least.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sugartoof

      The Derby is a very light drink. "Refreshing" is how the server described it to me, and I think that's apt. I had one and wasn't buzzed at all. The shot+chaser was bourbon (can't recall which one)+Anchor Steam. Another choice was tequila+Tecata, and one more that escapes me now. So yeah, I don't think you'll get a sense of the bar's flair. The happy hour discounts aren't a reason to go to Comstock, so no need to be confined to those time slots.

      1. Went to Tosca last night (Saturday) for a final shout and expected it to be crowded even at 6:00, but, as Goldilocks would say, it was just right. Crowd was diverse, mature, and very convivial in the spirit of securing a lasting last impression.
        Sad chapter closing.

        1 Reply
        1. re: saffrongold

          Someone recently told me that the moneymaker at Tosca was private events and after-closing parties. So adding a kitchen element might contribute some profit. I hope it can hold onto its patina.

          In case anyone wants the glasses,

        2. The new owners bought the place precisely to avoid the radical changes that Roger Forbes, the landlord and strip club owner, would surely have made had he successfully evicted Jeannette Etheredge.

          "'The plan is to keep it exactly the same. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,' says Friedman, before quickly adding: 'We’ll fix what’s broke though.' So yes, the name and branding will stay the same. The cocktail list will stay the same, as will the entire look and the strong majority of the decor. ... Beyond [rebuilding the kitchen], the main task is, as Friedman puts it, fix the tiles and chandeliers that are broken, and basically ensure that it will be able to last another century: 'The place is held together by Scotch Tape. The murals need work, everything needs work.'"

          2 Replies
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Wasn't the kitchen in a closet sized room?

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              the jukebox could be a touch louder to compete with the neighboring club and the lighting was always uhh, a bit harsh.

              otherwise, glad to hear it's not changing (much)

            2. The liquor license was transferred on Wednesday, so the new owners can get to work right away:


              Looks like they have some sort of partnership with the Biergarten owners: