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It’s not over until the fat lady sings at Tosca; Fior d’Italia blooms again

Big news swept through the City with the announcement in the Business Times that Tosca Cafe (242 Columbus Avenue) has been saved (owner Jeannette Etheredge reportedly owed $100,000 in back rent and was being evicted). Taking over the legendary location is Ken Friedman and chef April Bloomfield, known for the swell New York establishments the Spotted Pig, the Breslin and John Dory Oyster Bar. The Michelin-winning duo just signed a 10-year lease, and while they plan to renovate the space (and expand the dining area), they will be preserving a lot of what makes Tosca great (though I have a feeling Tosca’s notorious cash-only policy will be ending, and maybe that house cappuccino will finally taste good).

Joking aside, I am really torn by this news. On one hand, thank God the bar has been saved by people I trust will do right by it. But there’s another part of me that wishes it could stay exactly as it is. I love the moody ambiance, the opera on the jukebox, the white-jacketed waiters, the utterly hilarious Edith Head graffiti in the pink women’s bathroom, the occasional peek into Jeannette’s amazing and memorabilia-covered office (which needs to be shellacked and left exactly as it is). And let’s not forget the always-entertaining cast of characters who wander in there. With these upcoming changes, well, things will be different. I guess it’s another era for the space, but it doesn’t mean I won’t be pouring out some of my Negroni for the 20-plus years of wonderfully vivid memories I have had at this seminal S.F. bar. Stand by for more in the coming months.

Also in North Beach: Business partners Ryan Maxey and chef Ian Begg made the decision to close Txoko (504 Broadway Street) on New Year’s Eve, but they moved their neighboring Naked Lunch sandwich shop into the space. They are also adding a burger and fries and some other straightforward dishes. There’s that handy full bar, plus some new pool tables and TVs. The new, extended hours will be Tuesday–Sunday 11:30 a.m.–late, with the kitchen closed 2–5 p.m.

Great news for the many fans of Fior d’Italia (2237 Mason Street, 415-986-1886): After closing last May, the restaurant reopened on Sunday, Dec. 23, under new ownership. Executive chef Gianni Audieri, who has been the chef for the last 30 years, purchased the restaurant with his wife, Trudy (they will be its fourth owners since 1886). There are a few changes: The menu is a bit simplified from the previous list of more than 90 items, but some new dishes will be added; the restaurant will also have a fresh look. While some of the waiters will return, there will also be some new faces, like hostess Grace Roberts coming over from the recently closed Caesar’s Restaurant (along with some kitchen staff). Auguri!

With the closure of Marbella (previously Rex Cafe) at 2323 Polk Street, the new takers have arrived: Ari Derfel, Eric Fenster and chef Sean Baker of Gather in Berkeley. While the project doesn’t have a name yet, here are some details: Abueg Morris Architects is redesigning the 64-seat space, and as far as the format, chef Baker will continue Gather’s whole animal program, with a simultaneous focus on vegetables (look for some house-cured meats as well). Michael Ireland (previously at Meadowood) is consulting on the wine and cocktail program. Look for an opening this summer.

It’s a new year and some chef shuffling is happening around town at places with alphanumeric names. At Parallel 37 (600 Stockton Street, 415-773-6168) they have found a replacement for Ron Siegel, who is now at Michael Mina. Taking the helm is Michael Rotondo, who was most recently executive chef at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago (Trotter personally called Parallel 37 to recommend Rotondo). Rotondo worked at Trotter’s for eight years and received the Most Promising Chef award from Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller in the international culinary competition Bocuse d’Or in 2008. His new menu will be in place in a few weeks, though he just launched an eight-course P37 tasting menu as a preview.

Over at Bin 38 (3232 Scott Street, 415-567-3838) Arnold Pulido is the new chef after Caleb Jones’s short stint in the kitchen. Pulido was most recently the executive chef at Metro Lafayette, and he was also at Va de Vi in Walnut Creek for nearly five years. His new menu should be in place early to mid-February.

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Marcia Gagliardi writes a popular weekly e-column about dining in S.F. (subscribe for free at www.tablehopper.com) and has a book, The Tablehopper's Guide to Dining and Drinking in San Francisco. E-mail hot tips to marcia@marinatimes.com.

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