Here at TreeHugger, we've covered the sustainable food movement for years, but have never pulled together our own list of the greenest restaurants. Wait no more: these five outstanding green restaurants -- in no particular order -- are sure to please your stomach and your conscience.
A little disclaimer: It turns out that four out of five of our top picks are in the United States, though we carefully weighed several options outside our borders. These chefs and restaurants distinguish themselves from the pack with a commitment to sustainable food that goes way beyond what they plate up. These chefs aren't just serving mind-blowing food: they're forging farmer-chef networks and building dynamic communities around sustainable food. Since sustainability requires the next generation of leaders to uphold high standards and find new ways to build a green food culture, we also highlight restaurants with training and mentoring programs. We're pleased to see these chefs preparing and coaching the food industry's sustainability champions of the future.
From a pure food standpoint, we looked for restaurants where the chefs are serious about sourcing their food from responsible producers and prioritizing quality of ingredients over technique. That means the food at all of these restaurants is as local and seasonal as possible, simple, and assuredly delicious.To evaluate the restaurants' environmental impact, we turned to the Green Restaurant Association, the de facto certification body for green restaurants. Among the many possible criteria the association evaluates are efficiency and conservation of both energy and water, recycling, composting, and pollution prevention. Points are also given for recycled or chlorine-free paper products, biodegradable and organic products, non-toxic cleaning products, electricity from renewable energy sources, green building and construction, and employee education. Not all of the following restaurants have been certified by GRA yet, but all of them seem eligible.
Photo credit: San Francisco Chronicle
1. Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio, Napa Valley, California
After reading food critic Frank Bruni's glowing review in The New York Times, we couldn't help but be intrigued by Ubuntu, a vegetarian bastion of eco-friendliness in the fertile food and wine crescent of Napa Valley. The seasonal menu wows the eyes and the tongue with dishes such as pizza with figs, braised greens, and blue cheese; green wild nettle and onion puree over a slow-cooked egg with Parmesan and wild sorrel; and casserole of Finn potatoes laced with Swiss chard. The establishment, which has an attached yoga studio and opened in 2007, has a solid list of eco-merits:
• The majority of wine served is sourced from biodynamic and sustainable vineyards
• Employees are encouraged to walk or bike to work
• Furniture made from salvaged redwood and fir trees and other reclaimed materials
• Fresh food harvested from a local biodynamic garden and orchard
• Relatively inexpensive: most dishes are less than $15
Photo credit: The Guardian
2. Acorn House, London, England
Acorn House, another young and ambitious restaurant, is setting the gold standard for green restaurants in Europe. "We've always recycled, conserved energy at home, and tried to be ethical," says restaurant manager Jamie Grainger-Smith. "We've wanted our work to reflect our values and the way we live our lives at home to spill into our careers." Last year, the restaurant was named Best Newcomer in the Observer Food Monthly Awards. Acorn House, located in the Kings Cross neighborhood, also trains 10 young adults from the local community each year in the environmentally-responsible restaurant trade. Its distinctions include:
• As much as 80% of Acorn House's waste is recycled and the restaurant is testing new waste management strategies
• Wherever possible, Acorn House offers reusable cutlery and eco-friendly takeaway containers
• Packaging is sent back to the supplier for reuse when possible
• Customers have the option of different serving sizes, which creates less food waste.
• Green roof on storage area for growing herbs
• The restaurant and the recycling site is open to the public, schools, and trainee chefs as an educational resource
• Water purification on site to minimize road miles, plastic and glass use
• Uses green electricity where possible and energy efficiency measures
• Carefully honed supply chain emphasizing local producers
We'd like to try Acorn's ravioli of spiced summer squash, baked ricotta and amaretti. Or perhaps the vegetable ondhiyu kofti dumplings, lemonade bread, panna cotta, and poached fruit with ice cream.
3. Chez Panisse, Berkeley, California
Without a doubt, the grand dame of the sustainable food and restaurant movement is Alice Waters, chef and owner of the venerable Chez Panisse Restaurant and CafÃ©, which has beguiled the palates of thousands of diners since 1971. With an emphasis on fresh seasonal produce that can be grown in many parts of the state and backyard gardens all year round, Waters helped define California cuisine. Some seasonal signature dishes include baked goat cheese salad, wood oven-roasted quail, local swordfish involtini alla Siciliana, spit-roasted boar loin with shell beans and wild mushrooms, and semolina crÃªpe with roasted figs and honey.
The restaurant's commitment to sustainability is simple: "Chez Panisse gathers its material from trusted purveyors, known to be committed to sound and sustainable practices, and trusted to remain informed and responsive to these values in a rapidly changing society." The restaurant recently banned bottled water and has taken steps to reduce its waste stream.
Waters has long been an advocate for farmer's markets and sustainable agriculture, and has inspired scores of chefs around the world to source locally. In 1996, timed with the restaurant's 25th anniversary, she created the Chez Panisse Foundation to support educational programs such the Edible Schoolyard project in Berkeley where middle school students learn how to grow their own lunch. Today she is advocating bigger and broader school lunch plans for the city of Berkeley and the state of California. Recently, she was named a Time Magazine Hero of the Environment for 2008.
Photo credit: Restaurant Nora
In April 1999, Restaurant Nora became America's first certified organic restaurant. Under Chef Nora Poullion's leadership, the restaurant has helped forge a strong community of organic growers linking with restaurants in Washington, D.C. and beyond. Today certified organic growers produce 95% or more of all of the food served at the restaurant. Some Restaurant Nora specialties include local heirloom tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, chanterelle and roasted red pepper tart, pan seared Norwegian sustainable salmon, and molten bittersweet chocolate cake.
Before opening her restaurant, Pouillon helped reintroduce local farmers to top Washington chefs, beginning with the Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative of Pennsylvania. She also initiated the first producer-only farmer's markets in the nation's capital, now including eight active markets under the Fresh Farm Markets umbrella. While serving as a board member of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, Nora established an organic internship program and still receives five interns each year at Restaurant Nora.
Photo credit: Delta Sky
5. Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, New York City and Pocantico Hills, New York
In 2000, Dan, David, and Laureen Barber opened the original Blue Hill restaurant in New York City's West Village to showcase the best of locally grown and raised food. The informal, cozy restaurant specializes in flavorful but simple dishes like pan-seared and roasted Brussels sprouts, sweet-potato-and-apple gratin, cannelloni with lobster, and poached duck.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns is the Barbers' second restaurant, which combines a working farm, restaurant, 22,000-foot-greenhouse and educational center in the Hudson Valley. Much of the vegetables and meat served in the Stone Barns and New York City restaurants come from the surrounding land, and the chefs have significant control over how they are grown and what the animals are fed. The food is produced without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Though the fish may come from as far away as Alaska, it is always sustainably raised and caught, and is likely to be served with fresh items from the farm, like sugar snap peas.
A key element of the Barber team's sustainable food compound in the Hudson Valley also is the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, which offers programs and activities for people to participate in and learn more about sustainable agriculture and eating. Adults can sign up to cooking classes, tastings, how-to workshops and lectures, in-depth book discussions with noted authors, and more. For kids there are school programs, farmer-in-training after-school activities, and a summer day camp. The center also holds numerous family activities and volunteer opportunities.
Chef Dan Barber is a prolific writer and regularly pens op-ed pieces for The New York Times. He works with such organizations as the Kellogg Foundation, Slow Food USA, and Earth Pledge to advocate for more sustainable agricultural policies.
For more information on how to turn your restaurant green, we also like this list on StarChefs.com, 30 Ways (and Days) to a More Sustainable Restaurant.
More on Green Restaurants:
Ted Turner's Green Restaurant Revolution—His Top Ten Ways to Green The Restaurant Industry
Seasonal Restaurants are a New Gourmet Trend
Paul Newman & Michel Nischan Open Organic Restaurant
Bordeaux Quay - Britain's First Carbon Neutral Restaurant
Happy Cow's Vegetarian Restaurants Guide
Sandcastle: World's Most Remote Organic Restaurant?