Critics’ choice: Three old favorites, reimagined

Tosca Cafe; Five & Ten; Tallgrass

Tosca Cafe San Francisco

The new Tosca “feels like the place to be in San Francisco at this moment,” said Anna Roth in SF Weekly. That shouldn’t be a surprise. Already an iconic bar, famous for magical nights when Hunter S. Thompson or a gun-toting Sean Penn would be hanging out in the back room, it’s now in the hands of culinary star April Bloomfield, who arrives on the West Coast having already built a New York empire on her British brand of nose-to-tail eating. Bloomfield and company have kept everything wonderful about the room—the murals, the red banquettes, and even the patina of years of cigarette smoke. But “boy, the room looks great” with the refinements that have been made. Bloomfield herself runs the kitchen, which, “with a few exceptions,” is “turning out very good Italian food,” starting with dream-worthy pastas. The prices are absurd: Asking $42 for a half roast chicken is “nothing short of highway robbery.” But for now, this place has “an air of fabulousness” that’s nearly priceless, and “Tosca’s second act has just begun.” 242 Columbus Ave., (415) 986-9651

Five & Ten Athens, Ga.

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The restaurant that “landed Athens on the country’s culinary radar” more than a decade ago is now better than ever, said Bill Addison in Atlanta magazine. Relocated in July to a graciously reworked Colonial Revival–style bungalow, it now “oozes mature Southern gentility” but still serves the same quietly innovative food that made the original such a destination. Chef Hugh Acheson branched out to Atlanta years ago, but Five & Ten is the James Beard Award winner’s flagship, and you can feel his personal touch. An elegant warm potato salad with capers “speaks to his French culinary background,” while his love of Southern cuisine has only deepened. After boiled-peanut hummus, you might savor a corn soup laced with spruce tips and Tybee Island shrimp, then vermilion snapper with rice middlins. Yes, Five & Ten has changed, but it’s still the answer whenever anyone asks where they might go to “trace the evolution of modern Southern cooking” or to eat memorably in Athens. 1073 S. Milledge Ave., (706) 546-7300

Tallgrass Lockport, Ill.

One never knows what chef Bob Burcenski will do next, said Jeff Ruby in Chicago magazine. During the 32 years he’s spent at this lovable spot in suburban Chicago, the former painter and organist “may have generated more ideas than any Chicago-area chef working today,” and many of those ideas are “truly inspired.” Tallgrass is still located in a Victorian mansion whose dining room is lit by gas chandeliers, but Burcenski’s new menu was inspired by futurist author Ray Kurzweil. Burcenski calls it “transcendent” cuisine: Low in carbs, cholesterol, and calories but high in omega-3 oils, it enables diners to lighten up without sacrificing flavor. True, Burcenski’s experimentations “sometimes go off the deep end,” but “the misfires are worth enduring just to see what he’ll come up with next.” Recent highlights included a tartare of smoked salmon and avocado with curry emulsion and ravioli with mint pesto and lime crème fraîche. Best of all, Tallgrass always offers “something the latest hot spots may never have: character.” 1006 S. State St., (815) 838-5566

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