The saga of North Beach's landmark Tosca Cafe — which was the subject of much lamentation and hand-wringing eight years ago when it appeared in danger of closing forever, only to be saved once, close again, and be saved yet again by a well known trio of new owners last year — is turning another page this week.
Tosca 3.0, as we've been calling it, became more of a reality on Saturday with the opening of a heated outdoor dining space outside the storied restaurant and bar. The new menu of Italian staples — meatballs, pastas, roasted meats and fish — by chef Nancy Oakes is finally being served on site, after several months of testing takeout and delivery food, followed by a false start on a pop-up version of the restaurant in SoMa.
Oakes is a partner in the new Tosca, as we learned in August 2019, along with local restaurateur Anna Weinberg (Marlowe, Park Tavern, The Cavalier), and designer Ken Fulk. And while Fulk and his team have reportedly been working on a remodel of the interior — likely a fairly light one, though the details are still to come — the public will only get to see it if they venture to the restroom, with indoor dining currently on pause amid rising COVID cases.
Oakes, Weinberg, and Fulk stepped in to buy the business less than a month after previous owner April Bloomfield announced its closure in July 2019. Tosca had a successful run as a cozy but semi-high-end Italian spot under Bloomfield and her former business partner Ken Friedman for six years, until a sex scandal broke up the partnership and brought down much of their co-owned empire, including their flagship, The Spotted Pig in New York, which closed this past January.
The place had previously been a dive bar that for at least four decades did not serve food — though the remnants of a kitchen remained in back. And under the ownership of local legend Jeannette Etheredge between 1980 and 2012 it became a hangout for celebrities in town like Sean Penn, Francis Ford Coppola, and others. (A photo-covered back room, which Friedman and Bloomfield turned into a private dining room, was infamous in and of itself for late-night debauchery.) Penn ultimately played a role in brokering a deal to save the bar by connected the landlord, strip club magnate Robert Forbes, with Friedman, and a significant but respectful renovation took place in 2013 that added a modernized kitchen open to the romantically lit main dining room.
The new owners had been hoping to debut the new iteration of Tosca back in March when the pandemic changed everyone's plans. There were then plans to do a summertime Tosca pop-up in the parking lot of the St. Joseph's Art Society in SoMa, but that never fully panned out.
As the Chronicle reports, with Tosca turning 101 years old, Tosca 3.0 debuted on Saturday with a prix-fixe menu. $75 gets you antipasti — including spicy meatballs and a tomato-mozzarella salad — followed by a truffle-topped pasta, and a choice of two family-style entrees. Choices currently include Tuscan-style fried chicken, Berkshire pork ribs and sausage, roasted petrale sole, and winter squash risotto.
Wine pairings, from local sommelier Shelley Lindgren (A16, SPQR) are an additional $60. And diners can also add on things to the prix fixe like a shrimp cocktail, a plate of oysters, and caviar. See the full menu here.
Reservations are likely to go quickly, with even fewer tables now available around town with the closure of indoor spaces, and they're available Wednesday to Sunday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Photo: Jeremy Brooks