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Omnivore Books on Food

New, Antiquarian and Collectible Books

In a city obsessed with all things culinary, it seems strange that we didn’t have a book store devoted to the topic of food before, but we do now. Just opened this past weekend is Omnivore Books on Food, located on Cesar Chavez Avenue at Church Street in Noe Valley.

Omnivore is situated behind Noe Valley Pet Company, of which the book store’s proprietor, Celia Sack, is also a co-owner. The situation of this space couldn’t be more appropriate as it is the former location of a 1930s butcher shop. Some of the original features are still visible and are blended into the décor, such as the wooden checkout counter and a large scale mounted above the door to the meat locker. Dispersed throughout the store are antique cooking implements like tin molds.

You might think Celia’s jump from dogs to books seems like a bit of a long leap, but her background is in rare books. Even before Celia started the pet store, she worked at PBA Galleries, auctioneers and appraisers of rare books. Not to mention her own home is packed with thousands of her own books.

Though the store isn’t large, there is a wide variety of books to choose from. Omnivore carries hard-to-find titles, the latest cookbooks for amateurs and professionals, rare books, and signed books. You can find anything from books about how to start your own garden to how to cook a wolf. Sections are divided into categories such as regional cuisine (e.g. France, Italy, Spain), types of food (meat, vegetarian), high-profile chefs, farming and more.

Celia’s goal is to connect our food present to our past by making the selection of both old and new books accessible. Patrons are invited to pick up and browse through the antique and classic books. If you ever want a good snapshot of the past, flip through an old cookbook. There’s something insightful about the ingredients and methods of preparation that you can’t capture in a history book.

Some of those antique books include the American Salad Book from 1900 by Maxmillian De Loup with a recipe for frog salad ($65); 100 Salads from 1924 by Linda Hull Larned that will give you directions of how to make a French dressing Chiffonade ($45); and the 1888 edition of Entrées a la Mode by Mrs De Salis ($30), quite a deal if you consider you can get a new edition for $20. As you open the covers you’ll discover notes written by former owners or those that gave them as gifts. If you ever hold a costume party, these types of books would be great resources for making period appropriate meals.

There’s a host of contemporary books, but I will only touch upon a few here.

In the meat category, there are books on every carnivore’s favorite, the pig. Choices include The Bacon Cookbook by James Villas ($35) and the homage to swine, Stéphane Reynaud’s Pork and Sons ($40). For the more adventurous meat eater, there’s Charlie Trotter's Meat and Game ($50). On the flipside, there’s a whole section of vegetarian cookbooks, like Field of Greens by Anne Somerville ($33).

One thing you won’t find here is Guy Fieri’s latest cookbook. If you’re looking for the latest book from a Food Network star (sorry Alton), I advise you to check out a major online or brick-and-mortar retailer. Same goes for diet books. This store is about educating your palate and indulging the senses, not denying your taste buds.

You will find books from high profile chefs such as The French Laundry cookbook from Thomas Keller ($50), a real chef’s challenge; Eric Ripert’s On the Line ($35), an inside look at his critically acclaimed three Michelin star restaurant Le Berdain; or Mario Batali’s Italian Grill ($30).

Outside of the “how-to” category are books about issues dealing with food, like restaurant critic Steven Shaw’s Turning the Tables ($14) or guides such as The Slow Food Guide to San Francisco and the Bay Area ($20) and Food and Wine Budapest by Carolyn Banfalvi ($25).

If you can’t find a book in Omnivore, just ask. Books can also be ordered by calling the store during business hours. They can ship your purchase anywhere in the world. That's something to keep in mind for the upcoming holiday season.

Starting in December, Omnivore will feature author and chef guest appearances about once a week. Upcoming authors will include pastry chef Cindy Mushet, author of The Art and Soul of Baking and Clark Wolf, author of American Cheeses, along with expert guest Soyoung Scanlan of Petaluma’s Andante Dairy.