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What's Cooking for Christmas?

Local Chefs & Pretty Cookbooks

As any true-at-heart San Franciscan will tell you, we live in the best food city in the world (Paris and New York be damned). This year, local chefs and restaurateurs prove this claim with their holiday offerings, a collection of gorgeous cookbooks perfect for gift-giving, all aimed at San Francisco's culinary elite.

More than just a collection of "secret" recipes from Bay Area restaurants, these books were created with an eye for design. Each solid tome of culinary knowledge is served up in a handsome package, making this season's cookbooks perfect gifts for your foodie friends, many of whom might find it more realistic to enjoy their fine dining at home during this economic downturn.

In The Zuni Café Cookbook: a Compendium of Recipes & Cooking Lessons from San Francisco's Beloved Restaurant, chef Judy Rodgers doesn't just divulge some of the café's most enduring recipes (yes, the recipes for Roast Chicken with Bread Salad and Rodger's Mignonette Sauce are included), but explains in painstaking detail how to best prepare her culinary delights. It is these carefully written instructions that makes the book a truly special gift for the foodie in your life, who can learn how to prepare the dishes he or she has surely enjoyed at Zuni, one of San Francisco's sceniest (if not quite beloved) restaurants.

Other nice touches include comprehensive sections on selecting menus, properly salting your food as you prepare it, balancing flavors and creating the perfect stock. While the book only contains a smattering of the glossy, full-page photos we've come to demand of cookbooks, Rodger's descriptions, which preface each recipe, bring the dishes vividly to life.

With almost 550 pages of luscious recipes printed on exquisite paper stock with a clear (albeit old-fashioned) design, this book is one of the better values this season, especially since the dishes are simple enough that your gift recipient might actually use the book for something other than a coffee-table ornamentation.

The same, alas, cannot be said of The Farallon Cookbook: The Very Best of San Francisco Cuisine. While the book is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful books we've ever seen, the recipes are so complex that they seem to call for a Master's in the culinary arts. If you (or your gift recipient), however, are the sort of person who enjoys making your own homemade duck prosciutto, you will love this book.

Known equally for its outstanding cuisine and elegant Captain-Nemo-meets-Nieman-Marcus decor, Farallon the restaurant is well represented in The Farallon Cookbook. Executive Chef Mark Franz has teamed up with Lisa Weiss, a professional chef, recipe tester and food stylist, to reproduce, in loving detail, the eclectic and dramatic seafood creations for which Farallon has become famous since opening in 1997.

Printed on glossy paper stock, each recipe is accompanied by a full-page photograph rendered in exquisite detail by photographer Paul Moore. Even if you don't feel quite up to making Roasted Rack of Wild Boar with Chestnut Spaetzle, Braised Cabbage and Sage Jus, you'll damned well love salivating over its picture.

Mollie Katzen seems also to understand the value of design. While her new cookbook, Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Café is sadly bereft of glossy pictures, her breakfast book, a lovely hardcover, is a simple, reader-friendly update of her classic Moosewood cookbooks.

Vegetarians and meat-eaters alike will enjoy new recipes for protein bars, wheat-free muffins and delectable fruit concoctions. Katzen includes practical tips for the meatless kitchen, such as the proper refrigeration of one's fresh babka dough and nine ways to integrate vegetables into your morning meal.

Finally, lovers of food and history will appreciate Tadich Grill: The Story of San Francisco's Oldest Restaurant (With Recipes), in which John Briscoe, a Grill customer for decades, lovingly unfolds the story of the 150-year-old Financial District eatery.

Far more than just a cookbook, Briscoe's opus interweaves the restaurant's history -- from its Gold Rush beginnings, through three wars and into the modern era -- with San Francisco history, firmly locating the Tadich Grill as an important monument not only to our rich culinary history, but to the trends and circumstances that have defined our city. Fans of the Grill will also delight in the 50+ pages of recipes, which, lamentably, do not include the restaurant's famed tartar sauce.

If, like many of us this hard-candy Christmas, you can't afford to take your family and friends to an expensive San Francisco holiday dinner, treat them to a San Francisco cookbook instead. They'll love you for it, and they might just treat you to a home-cooked New Year's dinner.

The Farallon Cookbook: The Very Best of San Francisco Cuisine
by Mark Franz, Lisa Weiss & Emily Luchette, with forewords by Jeremiah Tower & Pat Kuleto
Chronicle Books; ISBN: 0-8118-2919-7
256 pages (December 2002)
Hardcover: $40

The Zuni Café Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes & Cooking Lessons from San Francisco's Beloved Restaurant
by Judy Rodgers
W. W. Norton & Company; ISBN: 0-393-02043-6
547 pages (October 2002)
Hardcover: $30

Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Café
by Mollie Katzen
Hyperion; ISBN: 0-7868-6269-6
302 pages (September 2002)
Hardcover: $29.95

Tadich Grill: The Story of San Francisco's Oldest Restaurant
by John Briscoe, forward by Michael Buich
Ten Speed Press; ISBN: 1-58008-425-7
200 pages (December 2002)
Hardcover: $27.95