Once a shining example of combining modern cuisine with preservation of a beloved, historic space, Tosca Cafe has served its last delicious meatballs as of Saturday night. The bar remains open, but possibly not for long.
It seems that chef-owner April Bloomfield's dwindling restaurant empire has been struggling financially, with vendors telling Eater SF that Tosca had fallen months behind in payments. And this follows on a rough year in which Bloomfield parted ways with former business parter Ken Friedman, after he faced accusations of sexual harassment at their New York restaurant, The Spotted Pig. Bloomfield's short-lived The Hearth and the Hound closed in Los Angeles in January, and she also closed the John Dory Oyster Bar in New York in February. She now only has one restaurant open, The Breslin in New York, while Friedman still runs The Spotted Pig.
Bloomfield was reportedly in the kitchen at Tosca Saturday night to oversee the final service.
Friedman and Bloomfield took over the 100-year-old restaurant in 2013 in a deal reportedly brokered by longtime fan of the place Sean Penn. They rebuilt the kitchen, which had not been in use since the 1950s, and saved Tosca from eviction — which had been threatened the year before due to $100,000 in back rent. It landed on Bon Appetit's Best New Restaurants list in 2014 and proceeded to enjoy several years of steady crowds and in-demand reservations, with notably excellent meatballs and roast chicken.
The trouble for the restaurant heated up last May, after Tosca's chef de cuisine Josh Even and business manager Dana Katzakian walked away from the business after failed negotiations to take it over. The two believed they could "save Tosca from the mess Ken created," as they told the Chronicle, but after negotiations dragged on too long they decided to part ways with Bloomfield.
But the stain on the Bloomfield/Friedman empire began with a December 2017 New York Times report about the sexual harassment allegations, and a subsequent, very damning 60 Minutes story that aired last May. The latter story included new allegations that also implicated Mario Batali of sexual assault in an upstairs room at The Spotted Pig that had become known to employees as "the Rape Room." In that story, as Grub Street noted at the time, one employee described Bloomfield as being complicit in Friedman's behavior, saying, "I know other people went to April, and she did nothing to make them feel safe."
When the #MeToo movement began spilling into the restaurant industry, the Chronicle addressed the issue and how its food writers would be approaching restaurants run by known harassers. Former critic Michael Bauer said at the time that Tosca was "a San Francisco icon we should be able to honor," praising its food as consistently good, and saying he did not want to penalize the staff for Friedman's behavior. Food editor Paolo Lucchesi took the opposite position, saying that after the "Rape Room" allegations, "I cannot imagine going to Tosca and enjoying myself, no matter how perfectly a chicken is cooked, or how affable a bartender is, or how much history it has. I don’t need to go there. And I don’t need to recommend it, or include in a list of recommendations." Even after Friedman was no longer a part of the business, it seems likely that sentiments like this caused a financial hit to the restaurant.
New Chronicle restaurant critic Soleil Ho came on the job earlier this year, and Tosca notably dropped off the Top 100 when it was published last month. As she wrote with regard to chef Charlie Hallowell and his new Berkeley restaurant back in March, "If I ignore a below-average health score at a restaurant and give it a good evaluation, who am I serving? If I reward a negligent kitchen manager for their behavior, I’m enabling them to keep doing things the same — and potentially endangering other people in the process."
It remains to be seen how long Tosca's storied bar will remain open, or if there is a new chef-owner waiting in the wings to remake the restaurant once again.
Photo: Jeremy Brooks