It's an East Bay cultural thing: Over the years, a number of readers have written or called to ask me for a list of restaurants where they can spend their money without betraying their commitment to the organic life. Chez Panisse is a no-brainer. But what if you want pad Thai?
Every week, the printed Express dining guide contains capsule reviews of fifty to ninety East Bay restaurants. The weekly edition, however, is just a rotating fraction of the more than 350 restaurants in our online guide. About halfway down the right side of the EastBayExpress.com home page, under the "Dining" heading, is a search function that lets you mine our master restaurant database by cuisine, location, or keyword. This week in the cuisine category, you'll find a brand-new field: "organic/sustainable" restaurants.
Over the past few months, we have questioned all the restaurants reviewed in our dining guide about their use of organic produce and sustainably raised or caught meat (free-range chicken, grass-fed beef, line-caught fish, etc.). For most, it's just about impossible to be completely organic/sustainable. Straight up, these foods cost a lot more, and in a city where the profit margins are as slim as the bartenders, rent is sometimes more important than culinary ethics.
The 71 restaurants we have labeled "organic/sustainable" all swear they are committed beyond just using a few organic baby greens in their salads. In addition, we asked Ritu Primlani of Thimmakka, an organization that works with Bay Area restaurants to reduce their environmental impact, to identify the restaurants certified green by the organization or Alameda County. You'll find Thimmakka's comments and other details in the "extra info" section of the online listings. (See Thimmakka.org for more info on its Greening Ethnic Restaurants program.)
One caveat: Since the Express has no food police at its disposal, we had to honor these restaurants' claims regarding their commitment to organic and sustainable ingredients. The guide is a work in process: If you take issue with any place you spot on the list, e-mail email@example.com and explain why. Same deal if you think other restaurants listed in our dining guide belong on the organic/sustainable list.
Keep in mind, however, that not every restaurant can be in our dining guide: We list only places our reviewers recommend -- with this new section of our database, we hope to highlight those whose environmental ethics are as commendable as the food they serve.