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Pete Wells Reviews Tosca Cafe

Pete Wells Reviews Tosca Cafe

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.


Pete Wells Kneecaps Guy Fieri. Is This a New Era for Food Reviews?

It’s not often that a restaurant review becomes a pop culture artifact, but Pete Wells’s takedown in The New York Times of Guy Fieri’s new place in Times Square has done just that. Wells wrote his review of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar entirely as questions. It’s a one-sided Socratic debate, which as it builds, absolutely razes Fieri’s brand.

This is an awesome development, and not just because Fieri has long stood for every dick you’ve ever hated, the guy in high school with mirrored sunglasses who called you “faggot” or “babe.” It’s awesome because this could be a turning point for American restaurant criticism, the moment it turns away from ponderousness and becomes fun. Its moment to become modern, the way it did in the 1960s, when young writers like Mimi Sheraton and Nora Ephron challenged New York’s double-breasted gastro oligarchy.

London food critics know how to have fun, and how to slay pretentiousness. Jay Rayner is a fierce writer who knows how not to be boring, something most American critics haven’t grasped. (Most American critics write by a formula that goes like this: intro-décor-first course-second course-dessert-wine list. Bleh.) I remember one savage and hilarious review by Giles Coren half a decade ago in The Times, in which he refused to give the address of the place because the food was so appalling. What American editor would ever let a critic get away with that?

Granted, Fieri is a unique case. But other Wells reviews—Talde, say certainly Mission Chinese Food—have demonstrated a yearning to break free of convention. With his Fieri column as a statement of principle, Wells may have just liberated a new generation of American food critics from earnestly writing about the napery.

Photo of Guy Fieri with brewmaster Kelly Taylor from Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar / Facebook


Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar

How, for example, did Rhode Island’s supremely unhealthy and awesomely good fried calamari — dressed with garlic butter and pickled hot peppers — end up in your restaurant as a plate of pale, unsalted squid rings next to a dish of sweet mayonnaise with a distant rumor of spice?

How did Louisiana’s blackened, Cajun-spiced treatment turn into the ghostly nubs of unblackened, unspiced white meat in your Cajun Chicken Alfredo?

How did nachos, one of the hardest dishes in the American canon to mess up, turn out so deeply unlovable? Why augment tortilla chips with fried lasagna noodles that taste like nothing except oil? Why not bury those chips under a properly hot and filling layer of melted cheese and jalapeños instead of dribbling them with thin needles of pepperoni and cold gray clots of ground turkey?

By the way, would you let our server know that when we asked for chai, he brought us a cup of hot water?

When you hung that sign by the entrance that says, WELCOME TO FLAVOR TOWN!, were you just messing with our heads?

Does this make it sound as if everything at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar is inedible? I didn’t say that, did I?

Tell me, though, why does your kitchen sabotage even its more appealing main courses with ruinous sides and sauces? Why stifle a pretty good bison meatloaf in a sugary brown glaze with no undertow of acid or spice? Why send a serviceable herb-stuffed rotisserie chicken to the table in the company of your insipid Rice-a-Roni variant?

Why undermine a big fist of slow-roasted pork shank, which might fly in many downtown restaurants if the General Tso’s-style sauce were a notch less sweet, with randomly shaped scraps of carrot that combine a tough, nearly raw crunch with the deadened, overcooked taste of school cafeteria vegetables?

Is this how you roll in Flavor Town?

Somewhere within the yawning, three-level interior of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar, is there a long refrigerated tunnel that servers have to pass through to make sure that the French fries, already limp and oil-sogged, are also served cold?

What accounts for the vast difference between the Donkey Sauce recipe you’ve published and the Donkey Sauce in your restaurant? Why has the hearty, rustic appeal of roasted-garlic mayonnaise been replaced by something that tastes like Miracle Whip with minced raw garlic?

And when we hear the words Donkey Sauce, which part of the donkey are we supposed to think about?

Is the entire restaurant a very expensive piece of conceptual art? Is the shapeless, structureless baked alaska that droops and slumps and collapses while you eat it, or don’t eat it, supposed to be a representation in sugar and eggs of the experience of going insane?

Why did the toasted marshmallow taste like fish?

Did you finish that blue drink?

Oh, and we never got our Vegas fries would you mind telling the kitchen that we don’t need them?


Gordon Ramsay's Restaurant Slammed By Reviewer

Another restaurant critic has taken aim at a a celebrity chef. But this time it's Gordon Ramsay that's the target for his latest Los Angeles eatery, Fat Cow.

Rodell, like Wells, chose to begin her criticism with a series of rhetorical questions. "When was it that Gordon Ramsay finally lost me? Was it the increasingly bad, pandering television projects? Was it the botox? Was it the name of his new L.A. restaurant, the Fat Cow, or perhaps his PR team's silly refusal to admit that 'fat cow' was an insult of sorts, especially coming from a British chef?" writes Rodell. While the review is not as harsh as the questions launched at Fieri &mdash "Hey, did you try that blue drink, the one that glows like nuclear waste? The watermelon margarita? Any idea why it tastes like some combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde?" &mdash Rodell does manage to fire off a few rounds.

"How was the fish? Who knows? All I could taste was glop," she wrote. To be fair, Rodell does point out what Fieri's reviewer did not &mdash the location could explain the kind of fare that's sold. Fieri's restaurant caters to a Times Square audience, not a New York Times-reading one. Ramsay's restaurant is in the Grove, LA's outdoor shopping mall. The area is riddled with chain stores, but it also has some quality restaurants. The main problem for Rodell was the price. Twenty-eight bucks for a cheeseburger that Rodell described as, "Covered in waxy, congealed, orange-ish cheese." Rodell also lamented the fries, which were "doused in truffle oil." Fans of Ramsay know he doesn't have a love for truffle oil. The Los Angeles Times blog Daily Dish reported in 2011 that Ramsay slammed a contestant on Master Chef for using it. "One of the most pungent, ridiculous ingredients ever known to chef," Ramsay said. "I can't believe you've just done that. I think you just put your apron up in flames." Judge Joe Bastianich chimed in that truffle oil is, "a sure sign of someone who doesn't know what they are doing." Bastianich came to Fieri's defense on the Today show after his critic's harsh words. Will he speak up for Ramsay?

Unlike Fieri's reviewer, this one did manage to praise the chef's overall reputation. "Ramsay was the original celebrity chef who refused to become a joke of commercialism," Rodell writes. But the major offense for Rodell wasn't the fries covered in chemical truffle oil, it was the price tag . Rodell's total for two after three cocktails, three appetizers, three entrées, and no dessert was more than $200.

Have you been to one of chef Gordon Ramsay's restaurants? What did you think?


After catching plenty of backlash (both warranted and misguided) for their shuttle buses, Google is now experimenting with a new way to get workers from San Francisco to Redwood City: by skipping the

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Jay Barmann

Jay C. Barmann is a fiction writer and web editor who's lived in San Francisco for 19 years.


St. Petersburg publishing a cookbook with local restaurant recipes for coronavirus relief

ST. PETERSBURG — Eating out hasn’t been the same since the pandemic, though there’s good news for foodies in the Sunshine City. A new cookbook will soon help locals recreate iconic dishes at home, all while supporting the restaurants they love.

St. Pete Eats: A Cookbook features recipes from over 30 local eateries. Starting Friday, cookbooks can be purchased for $20 from stpeteeats.org or participating local retailers and restaurants.

St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor and City Administrator Kanika Tomalin partnered with over 30 local restaurants to create the book. St. Pete Eats is a continuation of the Healthy St. Pete initiative Tomalin launched in 2015, which aims to bring a culture of health and wellness education across the city.

“In this cookbook, I’ve shared some of my own favorite recipes, and have enlisted the expertise of some of St. Pete’s finest chefs to give you an authentic culinary experience that can only be found in St. Pete,” Tomalin said in a news release.

“We can change health outcomes when we work together,” St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said in the release. “That is why I am excited about this cookbook. It is a vibrant illustration that great food and great health can coexist, especially in St. Petersburg.”

Books purchased online will benefit the city’s Fighting Chance Fund, an emergency grant program launched to help local small businesses impacted by the coronavirus. Proceeds from books bought at local retailers will go directly to those businesses.

Participating restaurants include:

  • Bella Brava
  • Birch & Vine
  • Brooklyn South
  • Callaloo
  • Ceviche
  • Datz
  • Dr. BBQ
  • Ford’s Garage
  • Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro
  • Hawthorne Bottle Shoppe
  • Intermezzo Coffee & Cocktails
  • Kahwa Coffee Roasters
  • La V
  • The Mandarin Hide
  • Noble Crust
  • Pacific Counter
  • Paul’s Landing
  • Pipo’s
  • Punky’s
  • Red Mesa
  • Rococo Steak
  • Rollin’ Oats Market & Cafe
  • Saigon Blonde
  • Sea Salt
  • TeBella Tea Company
  • The Floribbean
  • The Left Bank Bistro
  • The Lure
  • The Mill
  • The Tavern at Bayboro
  • Trophy Fish

You can also find the book at Asylum Sights & Sounds, Bananas Records Warehouse, Daddy Kool Records, St. Petersburg City Hall, Tombolo Books and Wilson’s Book World. The city published a map with all retail locations:


After NYT pans Locol, Jonathan Gold wonders if some restaurants are unreviewable

Tabitha O’Neal, left, takes a photo of her mother Delores, center, with Chef Roy Choi before dining at LocoL in Watts.

(Christina House / For The Times)

A business sign for LocoL is being installed.

(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Some of the menu items in the Yotchays section of the menu at LocoL.

(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Daniel Patterson chats with Roy Choi in one of the food prep areas of LocoL.

(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

The barbecue turkey burger from LocoL. The recipe for the bun is from Tartine baker Chad Robertson.

(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Chef Roy Choi, who is opening LocoL, a new fast food restaurant with chef Daniel Patterson.

(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Polaroids hang on the wall at LocoL, a new fast food restaurant by well-known chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson.

(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Workers at LocoL prep food during a soft opening.

(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

The Messy Beef Chili Bowl available at LocoL.

(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Richard Tapia, 29, and his wife, Liliana Gonzalez, 29, of Los Angeles, peek through screen windows while they wait in line for a free meal at LocoL.

(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

One of the desserts available at LocoL.

(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Pipita Alcala, of Santa Monica, and Jeff Rogers, of Los Angeles, get ready to try the food at LocoL.

(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Photographs by Evidence, of Dilated Peoples, adorn the walls of LocoL.

(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

LocoL opens its doors for business in the Watts area of Los Angeles on Monday.

(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

If you’ve been paying attention to food media this last week, you’ve probably heard a lot about Pete Wells’ zero-star review of Locol in the New York Times last Wednesday, in which he compared the hamburger to something he’d once eaten at Boy Scout camp. The review was of the Oakland location, not of the original restaurant in Watts, but the food community, both in Los Angeles and around the world, seemed to take the review personally.

Protests sprang up on the usual gastroblogs. Chefs David Chang and Rene Redzepi expressed their dissatisfaction via subtweet. Michael Krikorian, who knew some of the Watts Locol employees from his days as a gang reporter (and is not incidentally the longtime boyfriend of Mozza’s Nancy Silverton), wrote an impassioned op-ed for this newspaper. Kogi auteur Roy Choi, who co-founded Locol with San Francisco chef Daniel Patterson, posted a shirtless, scowling screenshot from Tupac’s “I Ain’t Mad at Cha’’ video to Instagram, and the symbolism was lost on no one.

Wells is no stranger to controversy – his pan of Thomas Keller’s Per Se split the food world last summer – but this seemed different. Per Se is a restaurant built around a $325 tasting menu. At Locol, which Choi and Patterson designed to bring fresh, healthy, inexpensive cooking to the kinds of neighborhoods sometimes referred to as “food deserts,’’ you can feed a dozen people for the cost of Per Se’s Wagyu supplement alone.

The question wasn’t how Locol’s $5 Fried Chicken Burg might compare to the vastly better $9 fried chicken sandwiches at Night + Market Song or Oakland’s own Bakesale Betty. It was why the New York Times was using its main restaurant column to gripe about bland turkey chili in an Oakland burger stand whose mandate was to feed a community with limited access to good, nutritious food.

Wells is a fine writer and an unimpeachable critic. If he said the grain-enriched hamburger patty was dry, the patty was dry.

And given: The Watts original is in a neighborhood with few alternatives the Oakland restaurant, which I haven’t visited, is on a gentrifying block near downtown. Locol’s mission may be less apparent when its dining area is within a few steps of taquerias and an Umami Burger. Context is important: I’m not sure what I would think of the Watts restaurant if it were located within a football’s toss of a decent brasserie.

But are certain restaurants unreviewable? It depends on the critic. (Have I reviewed Locol? I have not.) Wells might have concentrated on more conventional restaurants like Camino or Commis on his trip to Oakland, but in some ways, Locol is indeed too important to ignore.

I wrote a front-page story on Locol’s opening last January. In Food & Wine the same month, Kate Krader wrote “Locol is the Best New Restaurant of 2016.” Stories on the restaurant appeared everywhere from Rolling Stone to the Wall Street Journal to Daily Coffee News.

Currently Locol sits at 58 on the 101 Best Restaurants list: The loose, handmade cooking reminded me more of the lunch counters that dotted South Los Angeles when I was growing up in the area than it did anything I’ve ever picked up at a drive-thru window. It is one of the places, along with Guelaguetza and Mariscos Jalisco, where I try to take friends visiting from out of town.

The prospect of a baron of multicultural deliciousness like Choi joining forces with the Michelin-starred modernism of Patterson is intriguing in foodie terms alone. But while you might imagine that the involvement from high-profile chefs would result in a slick product, the food is closer to casual home cooking, inspired by its neighborhood rather than imposing itself on it.

Locol serves neither the coffee-roasted carrots nor the asparagus with buttermilk snow Patterson made when he ran the kitchen at Coi nor the blackjack quesadillas at Kogi and Chubby Pork Belly bowls for which Choi is known at his Chinatown restaurant Chego. The food is less an experiment in culinary creativity than it is an attempt to fashion sustainable, lower-fat, affordable versions of dishes already popular in the area it serves: burgers, pizza, chili and salad. The restaurant is staffed by people who live in the neighborhood, very few of whom worked in food service before Locol hired them. Locol is less a replacement for a fast-food restaurant than a better version of it, a place with a funky but high-design vibe, a bowl of rice and greens for the price of a bag of Cheetos. Choi is fond of calling Locol a revolution.

“It’s cool,’’ Wells messaged me Thursday. “But I tell you, if they want to start a revolution, they’ve got to do better than what they’re serving in Oakland.’’

So should Locol fall in the same category as Homeboy Bakery or Venice’s Bread and Roses Café, or should it be criticized because it fails to come up to the standards of Kogi or Coi? It’s a difficult question. In my opinion, Wells may not have been wrong, but he was ungenerous.


Share All sharing options for: The 17 Best Reactions to Per Se's 2-Star Takedown in the New York Times

The world loves a good scathing restaurant review — especially when the target of said review serves the kind of foie gras and caviar-laden meals few can afford. New York Times food critic Pete Wells demoted Thomas Keller's vaunted New York City restaurant Per Se from four to two stars yesterday, and unsurprisingly, the internet had a lot to say about it.

Echoing many of the sentiments expressed by Eater NY critic Ryan Sutton last year, Wells pronounced the lavish dining destination in the Time Warner Center "among the worst food deals in New York." Some of Wells' sharpest barbs include pronouncing a mushroom broth "as murky and appealing as bong water," renaming overcooked lobster "gristle of the sea," and comparing gratis after-dinner treats to "the swag that’s given out after a free press lunch."

The hubbub began in the comments section of the review, with readers from across the country weighing in. While a few seemed to think Keller had it coming, others were simply outraged that such expensive restaurants even exist:

Meanwhile on Twitter, the reactions ranged from glee to shock:

Ooooffff that review of Per Se is BRUTAL.

— Max's Sandwich Shop (@lunchluncheon) January 13, 2016

For Per Se to lose not one, but two stars in its NYT review is the biggest insult possible.

— #LegendaryBunny (@MzNikiLz) January 13, 2016

LOVE takedowns of the overpriced, overhyped (this one almost as good as Kappo Masa) https://t.co/bDN33FlnUs @pete_wells @nytimes

— Charlotte Lipman (@calipman91) January 13, 2016

Is there a special German word for enjoying a critic's pan of a restaurant you can't afford to eat at? https://t.co/NrOQs6te9W

— Michael Cooper (@coopnytimes) January 12, 2016

Someday I hope to be described as "grand, hermetic, self-regarding, ungenerous" https://t.co/KnXMO1amCv

— Richard Lawson (@rilaws) January 12, 2016

Many speculated on how Keller and his staff would react to the news:

Thomas Keller will need a bong hit (probably several) after reading this @nytimes review for Per Se by @pete_wells https://t.co/LMT5XcuJBD

— Eddie Lin (@DeepEndDining) January 12, 2016

There were also a few well-timed State of the Union jokes:

I bet President Obama doesn't even address the fact that Per Se has lost two stars on his watch.

— Jon Lovett (@jonlovett) January 13, 2016

An hour in and @POTUS still hasn't mentioned that Per Se review. #SOTU16

— Robert O. Simonson (@RobertOSimonson) January 13, 2016

Others wondered what, exactly, made Per Se worthy of the two stars it retained:

Two stars—"very good"—smells like a diplomatic gesture. Because this is not a review of a "very good" restaurant. https://t.co/Oswfj5TC5m

— Todd Pruzan (@toddpruzan) January 13, 2016

NYT takedown review of Per Se needed one sentence explaining why it rated 2 stars "very good" when it was so bad.Editor not doing his job.

— Mimi Sheraton (@mimisheraton) January 13, 2016

And unsurprisingly, there were plenty of wisecracks referencing Wells' recent (and surprisingly favorable) review of Cancun's finest restaurant export, the spring break partier mecca Senor Frog's:

Wooooow, looks like @pete_wells will be spending his money at Senor Frog's from here on out. #perse #twostars #yikes https://t.co/r0Xhr7YfAP

— Alexandra Romero (@AlexaMRomero) January 12, 2016

Pete Wells' Per Se review: How the 2-star restaurant should emulate Senor Frog's

— Fredric Hodge (@tetsuomirs) January 13, 2016

@davidsunlee I had a waaaaaayyyyyyy better time at Señor Frog's than I did at Per Se.

— Kat Kinsman (@kittenwithawhip) January 12, 2016

The difference between Senior Frog’s and Per Se is fun, skateboards, and about a $800 p/p. https://t.co/bASj5nhTAJ https://t.co/YNWGWqlyle

— Ben Kaminsky (@jaminsky) January 12, 2016

The internet explosion of feelings is almost as good as the one that followed Wells' 2012 takedown of Guy Fieri's Times Square restaurant — though it seems doubtful that Keller will appear on the Today Show to defend his business, as Fieri did.


Watch the video: Tosca Cafe: Check, Please! Bay Area review (January 2022).