Slow Food USA is an arm of the International Slow Food organization and is "dedicated to supporting and celebrating the food traditions of North America." This book highlights restaurants and food producers in the Bay Area who offer diverse foods or who otherwise contribute to the Slow Food movement by including sustainably grown or harvested ingredients. From the introduction by Eleanor Bertino, contributing editor:
Sustainably raised foods from local family farms have many benefits. First, they have delicious flavor. Next, the farms themselves provide a greenbelt for urban areas. And, most importantly, they promote individual and environmental health. To paraphrase Michael Pollan, when you purchase food, you are purchasing a landscape.
When I picked up this book and started skimming through it, the first thing I noticed was a snail icon next to some restaurants. This icon -- the Slow Food mascot -- is used to designate establishments "that go above and beyond in their support of the concepts of sustainability and biodiversity, from the producers they buy from through the foods they prepare and sell."
Restaurants that we all associate with this sustainability ethic are listed: Chez Panisse, Zuni Cafe, Pizzetta 211. And there are many restaurants that I wasn't aware of and am eager to explore: Burger Joint (Haight) which uses Niman Ranch beef for it's burgers, Casa Orinda (Orinda) which uses free-range, hormone free chicken and locally grown produce, and The Village Pub (Woodside) which has it's own 15-acre organic farm.
Whether you are looking for a restaurant that holds to particular ideals, or just looking for plain old good food, the Slow Food Guide to San Francisco provides apt descriptions in a book which highlights some of the best that the area has to offer. There are sections such as "Farmers' Markets", "Ice Cream, Chocolate & Confectionary" and "Groceries & Produce Markets" which take the reader beyond traditional restaurants and feature a good combination of old standards and new finds.
Most of my quibbles with the book are editorial rather than about the content. I found the neighborhood delineations to be off in some areas: Quince and Vivande Porta Via are both listed as being in "Japantown", Kiss and Bay Bread are "Pacific Heights" and Chez Nous is listed as "Fillmore". The difference is a few blocks, but the area listings lack consistency which can be frustrating - especially to a visitor. In the West Marin area of the book, the reader is advised to "See p. xxx." a couple of times -- showing that there was enough of a lack of editing that I would double-check a restaurant's address and hours before depending on this guide for specifics.
I found the content of the book and the restaurant reviews to mainly be engaging and fair. Many of the contributors are names that you may be familiar with: Meredith Brody, Bruce Cole, Kim Severson, and Jan Newberry are just a few of over 50 Bay Area writers who contributed to this book. Descriptions tend toward story-telling. For instance, I learned the history of Cowgirl Creamery, the number of jars of jam that June Taylor makes in a year -- all with her stovetop kettle (answer: 20,000), and how Zuni Cafe is like a long-term, monogamous relationship.
I would recommend The Slow Food Guide to San Francisco to Bay Area veterans and newbies alike, especially if you are interested in learning about Bay Area restaurants who use local and sustainably grown foods.