Noe Valley Voice December-January 2008

Store Trek

By Lorraine Sanders

Store Trek is a regular Noe Valley Voice feature, profiling new shops and businesses in the neighborhood. This month, we introduce a bookstore that popped up on Cesar Chavez a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving.

Omnivore Books on Food

3885A Cesar Chavez Street
at Church Street


We omnivores (well, herbivores too) are facing plenty of dilemmas these days. Just ask author Michael Pollan. But now we have another one on our plate: What cookbook should we pluck from the hundreds lining the shelves at Noe Valley's newest bookstore?

Omnivore Books on Food, with 1,800 books to feast your eyes upon, opened Nov. 8 in the breadbox-sized space that was once a butcher shop near the corner of Cesar Chavez and Church streets. The cheerful, freshly remodeled store, featuring equal measures of new and antiquarian books, is the creation of Celia Sack (who is also co-owner with partner Paula Harris of the Noe Valley Pet Company next door).

Reflecting Sack's passion for both cookbooks and collectibles, the shop showcases contemporary titles like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's The River Cottage Cookbook and David Tanis' A Platter of Figs alongside antique and vintage volumes, such as Mastering the Art of French Cooking by French chef Julia Child.

"The connection of the old and new--how traditions are passed down through the generations--that just made so much sense to me," says Sack, a rare books specialist who has worked for both Christie's in New York and the Pacific Book Auction in San Francisco.

Sack thinks her shop will hit the spot in Noe Valley, because of the "large number of people, like me, who love to cook and who love great food. We've got a great meat market--Drewes--and great restaurants like Incanto and La Ciccia. Church Street is becoming known as a sort of gourmet food corridor," she adds.

Though Omnivore is for everything-eaters, it likely will hold the most appeal for those with discriminating tastes. The store recently sold a 1948 copy of Hugh Corley's Organic Farming ($75), a book that Michael Pollan gives special billing in The Omnivore's Dilemma (available at the store as well). You can also pick up an out-of-print How America Eats, Clementine Paddleford's 1960 survey of regional American culinary traditions from the mid-20th century.

Other titles are more whimsical. Fancy Ices, an 1894 cookbook authored by Mrs. A. B. Marshall, with a sticker price of $600, chronicles the London cooking school founder's rich knowledge of ice creams, bombes, and frozen delicacies quite admired in Victorian times.

The new books are what Sack considers "books I can really stand behind, that are well-written, easy to use." Straightforward cooking techniques come courtesy of titles like The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters and Mark Bittman's culinary tome How to Cook Everything.

But don't think Omnivore is just for diehard foodies. The shop stocks many "old reliables," like the Fanny Farmer Cookbook and Irma Rombauer's Joy of Cooking, now out in a 75th anniversary edition, $35.

The store also carries books on cooking for, and with, children. Sack suggests Pretend Soup by Mollie Katzen, author of the Moosewood cookbook series. "It's an adorable book, well-illustrated for kids--a great way for kids to learn how to cook."

Books, which are neatly arranged by subject, run anywhere from $10 to $700. However, most new ones are in the $20 to $40 range.

If you're not sure what kind of cookbook you're looking for, just ask. "I love giving advice," says Sack, who enjoys testing recipes in her home kitchen on Douglass Street.

To perk up the neighborhood's palate, Sack has arranged for a series of author and chef visits to the store. This month, her lineup includes, among others, Eric Ripert, chef of New York's three-star restaurant Le Bernardin (Dec. 11, 5 p.m.); American Cheeses author Clark Wolf, accompanied by Soyoung Scanlan of Andante Dairy (Dec. 13, 2 p.m.); and Andrea Nguyen, author of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen (Dec. 17, 5 p.m.). For descriptions of all six events, see the Voice calendar or go to

Omnivore Books on Food is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Sundays, noon to 5 p.m., throughout the holiday season.