It has finally happened. At 2am Monday morning the doors of the Tosca Cafe closed and the ownership under Jeanette Etheredge came to an end. It is scheduled to re-open with new owners and the only thing that will change we’ve been told is that it will now serve food.
Jeanette Etheredge will always be welcome said new owners April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman, but there is something to be considered. The new owners are from New York and if there’s one thing San Franciscans like to thumb their nose at more than Angelenos it’s New Yorkers. We don’t like the pompousness of the food they present. We aren’t going to pay $200 for a skewer of lamb that was made while the chef was standing on his or her head while singing Verde. Food is not about what goes on in the back room, it’s about taste and the look. We don’t need gold leaf on our hamburgers if we can’t taste it. We love good food and we’re practical about it.
So we have a couple of New Yorkers who sound like they understand this and don’t want to change a San Francisco institution. Good for them. They better keep to it. Minor updates aren’t a bad thing and I honestly believe if they clean the nicotine stains off the walls that would be an improvement even if they added a bit of character, but I fully expect when I go in there to see the bartenders wearing the old school lab coat style jackets and ties. I fully expect the Irish Coffees and Cappucinos to remain unchanged and when they add food they better take into consideration of the last paragraph.
Hipsters and others moving into San Francisco are killing off the history of this city that attracted people to it over the years. This is a bad thing because they’re actually destroying what brought them here in the first place. Tosca is a hold over from a long time ago and its class doesn’t really attract the hip crowd. It attracts a more grittier type of people with a few lines on their face and some history behind them, not the nouveau types who have come here to make a few bucks and leave.
On closing night you could see why Tosca was so popular with some of the more colorful people of San Francisco. Francis Ford Coppola, Will Durst and Carol Doda were some of the names of celebrities who were there. They may not all be A list, but they’re all well known enough that they’re appearance made a statement.
When i was first announced the SFMTA was going to build an offshoot of the Muni Metro that would run from near AT&T Park to outer Fisherman’s Wharf. This sounded like a great idea because you could get off at the Van Ness and Northpoint and have a short walk to Pier 39, the Wharf, a little further down to the Cannery do a little shopping, maybe drop by Ghiradelli Square next door and have a sundae then head back home. Then they said because of costs they would have to stop it at Chinatown.
Of course Chinatown. If you drop it into google most of the responses you get will be in Chinese newspapers, blogs, etc. Rose Pak is usually mentioned as well. This leaves out North Beach and the Wharf. Two high money making areas for tourists. Most tourists to Chinatown don’t spend much time since they done speak Chinese. At least at North Beach and the Wharf they speak English and a few other languages which means more money they can take out of your pocket.
Now they have been talking about the extension into North Beach. This was before the Mayoral election where most of the people running for Mayor were against a Central Subway that stopped in Chinatown. It really would have only benefitted the Chinese in San Francisco and very few others. You might get a short walk to the strip clubs on Broadway, but now they’ve found a way to move it into North Beach to support the Italian community that once lived there [a few still do, but it’s mostly hipsters now.
I would still like to see the full run of the Central Subway all the way down to Van Ness & Northpoint because it would help people who live out there commute downtown as well as a greater influx of money to the city. I’ll take the stop at North Beach for now and then maybe they can extend it all the way down to the Wharf just like they did with the T. I find the Metro to be very quick and I can get downtown in about 15 minutes, so why not speed things up to get people down to the wharf? As it is right now, from where I live to get to the wharf I need to take two buses and a short ride on the Metro. That usually takes me over an hour to get there. We rarely drive as parking is steep and hard to find. If we could hop on a Metro and get there in about an half hour instead of the over an hour it takes now I’d be all for it. We should be serving the entire city, not a small part of the city.
The Buena Vista and Irish Coffee have become an icon of San Francisco history. While Irish Coffee originated in Ireland, it was refined to perfection at the Buena Vista on the Wharf which is still the best place to sit and enjoy a glass looking out over the bay.
The trick in making a proper Irish Coffee starts with the glass. It is a 6 oz glass as you see in the picture. 6 oz being the optimal amount to perfectly mix all of the ingredients and the Buena Vista seems to have a lock on these glasses. I luckily have a few from the 50’s that my parents picked up when they were all the rage.
You start by pouring hot water into the glass to heat it up to a proper temperature then pour the water out and fill the glass with coffee to about 3/4’s full. Add two cubes of sugar and a shot of Jameson’s Irish whiskey, no other whiskey will do. The secret technique which took a few years for Jack Koeppler and Stanton Delaplane to figure out was how to keep the cream from sinking to the bottom. It turns out that aging the cream for about 48 hours and briskly frothing it made it float. You would then pour it over the back of a spoon to neatly let it float on top creating a drink of Ireland that was inherently native to San Francisco.
While the Buena Vista sell’s Irish Coffee glasses to the public for $5.95 each, those aren’t the real Irish Coffee glasses of legend. There is no handle on them and they appear more goblet-like than the originals. Apparently what makes this drink taste so good is the glass. At least that’s what people have been saying recently. I’m not sure if that’s true or not which means I’ll have have to pull out a bottle of Jameson’s and brew up some coffee and do a taste test.
Probably the two people who helped make the Buena Vista and Irish Coffee well known as the “San Francisco Drink” were Stanton Delaplane and Herb Caen, though Herb often ordered, “Irish Coffee, hold the coffee”. For those who don’t recognize the name Stanton Delaplane, he was one of Herb Caen’s co-horts at the S.F. Chronicle and if I remember correctly Herb’s column was on one side and Stanton’s was on the other.
As a kid I looked up to these two because they made San Francisco more than it was. They were old school, kind of like Sean Connery was old school Bond compared to Timothy Dalton who’s now old without the school. That’s probably why I liked things like scotch and vodka martini’s before I was old enough for people to think I should be drinking them. Irish Coffee is one of those old school drinks that I think needs to make a comeback with the vodka and redbull crowd. Irish Coffee was the vodka and redbull of the old days. It turned you into a wide awake drunk so that maybe you’d remember how stupid you acted the night before.
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I had a flashback to being a kid this week. I was down in the Mission and happened to be walking by Lucca’s Delicatessen (not to be confused with Lucca’s in the Marina) when I saw in the window a box of Bugia cookies. I had totally forgotten about these cookies of my youth and I had to buy a box.
The cookies derive their name from the Italian word, Bugia which translates to liar. They are called liar’s cookies because when Mama makes them and puts them in the cookie jar she’ll know immediately if you’ve stolen one by the trail of powdered sugar that leads up to your mouth. They make them all over Italy, but everyone does it a bit differently. These where oddly enough just like the one’s I ate as a kid. As it turns out they are made at the Liguria Bakery on Stockton Street. That would make sense since my family who came from Jackson, CA where there are a large population of Ligurian Italians (my family originally came from Genoa which is in Liguria).
These are puffy fried chips of dough covered in powdered sugar. There’s a little bit of citrus and anise in the dough that give them a wonderful taste. This isn’t like the fried dough they sell on the east coast. Nothing like zeppole which is a fried Italian doughnut, but crunchy and addictive. If some one could make a sweet potato chip it would probably taste a little bit like this.
Oddly enough they aren’t very bad for you even though they’re fried. Ten chips only have 150 calories and 1.5 grams of saturated fat. I’m not saying that you should change your diet for them, but they’re a great treat you should try.
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Alfred Podesta was my godfather and my mother couldn’t have picked a worse man to help me be brought up right. Uncle Al was a bohemian of sorts who hung out with friends such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Benny Bufano, Allen Ginsburg, Tippy Hedren and god knows who else sipping cocktails at Vesuvio’s and probably philosophizing late into the nights before leaving for his apartment on Greenwich street.
He was the founder of Podesta Divers a salvage company that had the job of digging stuff out of the bay. It was amazing some of the things he’d pull up and when he’d come to dinner on Saturday nights he would sometimes share some of the odd stuff he pulled up when he had to retrieve a car and find some other odd bits that had accumulated on the bay floor before it. Uncle Al would always show up at the house in his forest green 1965 mustang that he had until the end. He’d always have a leather jacket and a scarf around his neck and went he call prior to coming over he always ask me, “do you still have your earrings?” I’d always answer yes and he’d say, “GOOD!”
He could sometimes be a bit of a gruff old man at times, but that was do to his upbringing in Jackson, California which wasn’t any where near as urban as we have it here. He would milk cows and kill chickens for a dinner, but he had a kinder side to him even though he once threw a chair at my Mother when she was a kid for coming into the kitchen one morning without washing her hands. He liked his scotch and he’s probably the reason why I like my scotch as well. He always enjoyed his life to the fullest and even when his first wife [Pacifist Anarchist Artist Shirley Staschen Triest] left him he ended up marrying a German woman who was younger than his first son. This was a man who had some big cojones for the time.
After his first wife left him he decided to run off and live in Mexico with awhile with his son. Neither of them spoke Spanish, but figured since they could speak Italian they could get by and they did. Rather well. We still have some of the wicker furniture he sent back to my mom from Mexico and oddly enough it still works quite well in that my daughter hasn’t been able to tear it apart.
He taught me a love of the oceans and how even back in the 70’s how we were screwing them up with all the crap we were dumping into them. He never proselytised though it was always a one on one type of conversation and even me as a young kid in my 20’s he treated me as an equal.
One of my funniest memories was a news story my mom showed me that was a picture of Uncle Al in the basement of City Lights. I can’t remember if it was the opening or some party, but there he was with a joint in his hand and my mother remarked, “Gee, I never knew your Uncle Al rolled his own cigarettes.” Riiiiight…I really wanted to pat my mom on the head for that one, but she wasn’t exactly always “in the loop” as to how life worked in San Francisco. It took her awhile to figure out that his roomate on Greenwich street Tony was gay, but always noticed he had such an impeccable fashion sense. I suppose Uncle Al though he was just another bohemian type and never gave it much though.
Uncle Al was one of my all time hero’s and looking back I can tell why. He was a true San Franciscan. Just look at the old picture I have up there and you can see he was a bit of rakish individual who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind and share his hooch. Something tells me he probably knocked back a few shots with Sally Stanford. I don’t know why I thought of him today, but I really miss Uncle Al. Now I just wish we still had that old ancient diver’s helmet we used to have.