Green Cuisine

January 8, 2009

One of the great things about organic going mainstream is the appearance of so many restaurants that serve organic food that's-get this-actually really delicious. And the ones that really stand out are going above and beyond by getting organic certifications. Some are strictly vegetarian. But others are expanding their horizons with the understanding that not everyone who eats pure is eschewing meat. Whether it's pizza or fine dining, there are so many options out there that you'll probably find one in your area. No? Well then I guess it's an excuse to do some traveling.

I love visiting New York-both for business and pleasure. Next time I stop by I plan on heading to Gustorganics. I heard about it from a friend of mine who is constantly raving about the menu, the ambiance and the restaurant's dedication to being environmentally responsible. They boast being the nation's first restaurant to use 100% USDA certified organic ingredients and it's the first USDA certified organic bar in the world.

From using only wind energy, the use of solar lighting, having water purification equipment and eco-friendly take out containers, paper and cleaning products to building the restaurant out of recycled woods and having organic uniforms this place is as pure as possible. And then there's the food. It's divine. Or at least that's what my friend keeps telling me. She swears by the simple arugula salad, the grilled pizzas, the empanadas and the Argentinean-style lemon cheesecake (which made me want to hop a plane right then and there).  Along with dairy-free, gluten-free and vegetarian choices, Gustorganics also serves plenty of options for carnivores like chicken marsala and beef stew. There's plenty to drink too. You'll find organic juices, wine and beer, but what you really need to try are their custom-created blended drinks like the unique, refreshing and addictive basil daiquiri.

If Washington D.C. is more your style head to Restaurant Nora. One of the most famous organic restaurants in the states, Restaurant Nora is known for fine cuisine, a lengthy wine list and decadent desserts. (Cardamon Crème Brulee with Fig Chutney.need I say more?) The restaurant buys from local farmers and specializes in seasonal fare that will tempt your tummy and make you forget about your diet.

California is the land of movie stars, vineyards, surfboards and sunshine. And the state has long been known for being a pioneer when it comes to healthy eating. Located in Berkeley-right outside of San Francisco-is Chez Panisse. With a menu that changes daily and a strong commitment to sustainability this little restaurant and café is definitely a place to try. For fine dining make a reservation for the restaurant portion, which designs a seasonal appropriate, three or four-course menu at a fixed-price. Upstairs is the more casual and moderately priced café. With over 30 years of serving organically grown food Chez Panisse gets their ingredients only from local farms and markets.

While you're in Northern California head to the Ukiah Brewing Co., the country's first certified organic brew/pub. Start with a mug of one of their famous beers that's certified organic by the CCOF. Then move on to the seasonal dining menu where everything is made from scratch and from organically grown ingredients. Definitely not a stuffy place to eat, they also have local musicians on weekends and an open mike night on Wednesdays. Sounds like a lot of fun. Also in the states is Pizza Fusion, a franchise that can actually be considered green. They deliver with hydrid cars, use only organic ingredients and offer discounts to customers who bring in their empty pizza boxes for recycling. They're springing up all over the country from Washington to Florida and they have gluten-free, lactose-free and veggie options.

Closer to me in Canada is the Rice Bar (update: closed now) in Ontario. Striving to be the greenest restaurant in Toronto (they really say that), they use eco-friendly light bulbs, uniforms, serving ware and cleaning agents. They also serve food grown from local and/or organic ingredients. Plus they seem to have a great sense of humor. On the website it says, “First and foremost, we feed you well, in a casual, funky environment.”  The menu, which allows you to start with rice (basmati, jasmine or wild) and then add your own ingredients (like green coconut milk curry, roasted peppers and pumpkin seeds), definitely calls for experimentation.

There's also Aphrodite's Café in Vancouver, which blends old-fashioned comfort cooking with wholesome organics. Open for dinner, lunch and brunch on the weekends, the café offers a huge variety of food that will please every palette. I'd love to get my hands on the wild mushroom quiche followed by a slice of one of their favorite pies.