After nearly two years of being totally dark, the 102-year-old Tosca Cafe (242 Columbus Ave.) is coming alive again this week, having undergone its second light remodel and refurbishing in the last decade.
As you likely know if you've followed restaurant news in recent years, the "2.0" iteration of Tosca that began in 2013 after New York restaurateur Ken Friedman and chef April Bloomfield took over had its sunset in 2019, after six years of very excellent Italian food and cocktails. The reasons were complicated, but after Friedman was embroiled in sexual misconduct allegations back in New York, Bloomfield attempted to separate from her partner in business, keeping their West Coast properties for herself, but then shutting them down. (Bloomfield has lately been living on a farm in upstate New York, and recently turned up cooking at a historic Connecticut hotel.)
The restaurant had a makeover then, eight years back, in which the original, worn linoleum floors were cleaned up but kept intact, the kitschy Italian-esque paintings were cleaned up as best they could be — after decades of indoor smoking damage — and the booths and chairs in back got some fresh upholstering. Then, in 2019, shortly after we learned that Tosca had closed, a trio of SF restaurant vets announced they were taking over and planning a quick reopening. That trio consists of chef Nancy Oakes (Boulevard), restaurateur Anna Weinberg (Marlowe, Leo's Oyster Bar, Park Tavern), and designer Ken Fulk, who has worked with Weinberg on several projects.
After not making it open before the pandemic hit, the team sold takeout meals for a few months, attempted to reopen Tosca as a summer pop-up in SoMa, and then for outdoor dining in the fall, but only got to be open for about two weeks in November before the next lockdown came. They then opened officially for outdoor dining in March.
As Fulk tells Eater this week, his intention was similar to Friedman's eight years ago in that he didn't want to change the interior too drastically, but he did want to add a bit more to the space. He said there are some new brass rails that were burnished to look aged, and a new mural is going in across from the bar — replacing what was not a particularly memorable or visible, damaged painting.
And he, too, thought about replacing the linoleum floor with black and red checkered marble, but decided just to buff it up and keep it — for character. "It would have been beautiful, but it would have been too nice," Fulk tells Eater, adding that Tosca is a "joint" with good food, and with so few of those left in SF, the new owners wanted to make sure it didn't lose that feel.
"I didn’t want my personal mark on it,” he says to Eater. “That was not the goal. We wanted Tosca to be Tosca."
What surely counts as Fulk's mark, though, are some luxury touches that may go unnoticed to the untrained eye. He wallpapered the famed back room in damask, rehanging all of former owner Jeannette Etheridge's memorabilia where it was before. He redid all the banquettes in real leather. And he took out a "bad wine wall" that Friedman had installed.
The menu is slowly expanding, but it remains a prix-fixe, as it has been for the last two months of outdoor service. And the outdoor parklet, with its plants and trellises, remains one of the nicest in the city, if you're still not ready to eat inside. And, for now, the place is still open just four nights a week, Thursday to Sunday, in addition to weekend brunch. Find reservations here.