Dining

Pieces of April

For once, the update of Tosca in North Beach does right by the original

You know how some painting restorations result in the destruction of everything that once charmed you?

Well, that hasn't happened at Tosca.

Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield have succeeded in breathing life back into the gorgeous, once-downtrodden bar. There are new mirrors and wine shelves--not to mention a brightly lit kitchen--but Tosca's golden, elegant gloom is just as enchanting as before.

The cocktails at the bar have yet to find their balance. But in the kitchen, chef Bloomfield is putting out food that reminds us why her flagship, The Spotted Pig, is a Manhattan institution.

California has already won the chef over. "It lets us keep things a bit more simple," she says, "to maybe subtract an ingredient here or there, because there's so much depth and beauty to the produce by itself. "

Vegetable love aside, she is a poet of meat. Think oxtail terrine ($11), coated in slashing red-wine vinaigrette, that melts upon contact, and long-braised short ribs ($31) char-grilled at the last minute to give their edges a smoky crust.

Pastas such as a twist of bucatini ($17) with tomatoes, chiles and flecks of salty guanciale that crackle as you eat prove that the British chef speaks Italian. So does the amazing mussel soup ($15)--custardy mollusk meat, chunky tomatoes and smoked pancetta piled on one another.

We're already having pangs of nostalgia.

Tosca Café 242 Columbus Ave. San Francisco CA 94133 415-986-9651

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