This week, The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells reviews Tosca Cafe in San Francisco, which was converted last year from a "landmark dive bar" into an Italian restaurant.
"They carefully shored up an interior that had marinated for 94 years in cigarette smoke and spilled brandy, then added an open kitchen that fills the back dining room with the smells of roast chicken and melted pork fat," says Wells.
He goes on reminiscing about a handful of other notable restaurants previously renovated, some which have been "torn down, neglected, or changed beyond recognition," as well as some that may be soon.
"Alain Ducasse is the best known of several French chefs to have rehabilitated Parisian bistros and cafés. With somewhat more modest culinary ambitions, Keith McNally, Graydon Carter, and John DeLucie have done something similar with the saloons and corner taverns that are New York’s answer to the bistro… In 2012, Locke-Ober Café in Boston closed after 137 years, despite an attempted resuscitation by the chef Lydia Shire. Plans to open a new restaurant there are in the works, but it won’t be called Locke-Ober, or look much like it; many of the antique fixtures and ornaments are gone."
As for Tosca Cafe, "nearly everything was restored, repaired, buttressed, or subtly upgraded," says Wells. "Layers of cigarette smoke were peeled from Ted Levy’s 1938 mural of Venice on the back wall, but the tar stains were left on the ceiling, which was encased behind clear sealant to keep plaster from falling into the bucatini. Tables were resurfaced with wood. Vinyl chairs and banquettes were done over with red leather. Checkerboard floor tiles were patched up. New mechanical guts were built for the cappuccino machine and the jukebox that plays opera 45s."
Finally, Wells praises the food for not trying to be something it’s not: "I also liked that Ms. Bloomfield and Mr. Even’s menu doesn’t reach for a 1919 Italian-American version of retro-authenticity. Their food is what you want to eat today, which means Tosca Cafe might be around tomorrow."
For Wells' full review, click here.