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The Legendary Tosca Cafe Gets a Spit Shine

The up-lit wine wall—one of the few new elements in the space—showcases bottles from Randall Graham and Ceri Smith’s stellar Italian list. Photography by Jen Siska. 

Timeworn spaces don’t always take well to renovation, and San Franciscans don’t always adapt well to change. But in the case of North Beach’s nearly century-old Tosca Cafe, a little care and fresh polish are bringing new light to an iconic corner of the city.

(Left): Bloomfield’s antipasti of tangy, tender moscardini (baby octopus) is olive oil-cured with shallots and peppers. (Right): The delicious, wintry mussel soup—a standout starter—is emboldened with roasted garlic, smoked pancetta, and coriander.

Taking ownership from longtime proprietess Jeannette Etheredge, New York–based partners Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig, The Breslin) have proven their appreciation for Tosca’s history, leaving much of the old space as is. The cracked linoleum tile floor and an ancient dark ceiling stain remain, despite a refurbishment of the leather booths and the once-forsaken kitchen. It all amounts to a gentle transition, from revered divey hangout to an Italian joint bustling with youth, serving hearty dinners, and offering up stellar drinks.

(Left): The Cap Haitian Apple Toddy is served warm with Haitian rum, cider, roasted apple, spiced butter, and a flamed, clove-spiked orange peel.(Right): April Bloomfield brought Joshua Even (right), a sous chef at her John Dory Oyster Bar in New York, to be her chef de cuisine.The two pay tribute to North Beach’s history with an Italian-centric menu.

Bloomfield is already getting raves for her oxtail terrine, meatballs, and crispy pig tail antipasto, and her house-made focaccia is the stuff of dreams. But it’s the new world of Bay Area produce that has her most excited. “I’ve never seen produce like I’ve seen here,” she says. “And seasons are so long!” This winter, she’s working with celeriac, squash, and citrus foreign to her East Coast eyes.

Complementing her flavorful pastas and unique spins on roast chicken and Dungeness crab are Italian wines curated by winemaker Randall Graham and Biondivino owner Ceri Smith—who is quick to sing the praises of her mellow, food-friendly house Chianti. Bar manager Isaac Shumway reinvents unsung classic cocktails, such as the Suffering Bastard, his adaptation of the Trader Vic’s original, using piney St. George Terroir gin, fine Armagnac, fresh-pressed ginger, lime, bitters, and soda. Tosca feels like a shined-up pair of favorite shoes—a well-worn but newly gleaming classic that is still a perfect fit. 

This article was published in 7x7's February issue. Click here to subscribe!