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Simple and Sweet Daytime Eats

[whitespace] Citizen Cake Baked to Order: Citizen Cake owner Elizabeth Faulkner bakes cakes and pies.

David Fortin

Citizen Cake offers much more than just decadent desserts

By Paul Adams

Getting married? You might want to consider ordering your wedding cake from Citizen Cake. But go there for lunch first, and you'll see why, because if you aren't planning a celebration, Citizen Cake has far more to offer than just cake. And everything there is done as well as possible, it seems.

Citizen Cake is the dessert cafe founded by pastry chef Elizabeth Falkner after she left Rubicon. "Dessert cafe" is a genre of establishment, sadly underrepresented in San Francisco, that typically serves both food and dessert, as well as your classic cafe beverages, with a somewhat stronger emphasis on dessert. At Citizen Cake, lunch is served from 11:30am to 2:30pm, but for the rest of the day (they close at 6pm), you can get dessert pastries, savory pastries and coffee drinks.

Everything's high caliber, simple and well executed. They roast their own coffee, flavor it with their own syrups and even hand make the marshmallows for the (Scharffen Berger--delicious!) hot chocolate. They serve San Pellegrino Aranciata, about whose appeal an entire column could be written. Limonata. Fresh O.J. Citron pressé, whose water comes in little aperitif carafes. Nothing is overlooked.

The decor is industrial, as befits the neighborhood, with little homey touches (flowers, polished wood, origami) and a pleasingly subtle transition between the courtyard and dining area, which are industrial-designed-looking for aesthetic purposes, and the completely exposed kitchen, which of course is functionally industrial-looking.

They bake their pizzas and pies in a serious wood-fired oven, whose wood, stacked out front, supplies a note of rusticity among the steel furniture and concrete floor. Lunch options are few but excellent. Sandwiches include toasted-tomato-and-cheddar, tuna salad and a near-ideal version of the "Mediterranean" everybody serves (cliché--it's the only vegetarian lunch at San Francisco's delis): not hot, delicately slimy and succulent roasted bell peppers and fresh basil leaves between focaccia slices spread with pungent tapenade and ricotta cheese. For a dollar more, you can get a piece of fresh fruit and two cookies thrown in with your sandwich to round out the meal. ... if you can look at the pastry case and boldly call two cookies "enough dessert."

There is a house pizza, made with a tomato sauce and provolone, as well as a daily pizza. Pizzas are about 9 inches in diameter, thin-crusted and made to order. The house one is rendered interesting and sweet, though a little too salty, by the provolone. The pizza of the day typically features vegetables and cheese. On one recent visit, it had crisp potato slices and mild blue cheese on a bed of sweetly delicious caramelized onions; on another, corn and white cheddar with the same onions. In the first example, the onions balance the tart cheese with sweetness; in the second, they balance the sweetness of the corn with meaty savor. There's also a baby-greens salad with a creamy vinaigrette and bread.

All day, Citizen Cake has scones, including an irresistible creamy, salty cheddar-onion one; amazing butter-laden croissants; cinnamon rolls; granola; and, oh yes, dessert.

Dessert. Citizen Cake has a wide variety of fresh daily cakes, tarts, pies, cookies, etc. Truffles. Bread pudding made with brioches. Ice-cream sandwiches. Granitas. All of their cakes sport fanciful structures on top. The After Midnight cake is dark chocolate interspersed with lighter-chocolate ganache and is coated with dark chocolate. It's intensely flavorful, although not as moist as some of its fellows. There is a strawberry chiffon cake with layers of custard mousse.

Depending on the market, different fruits will be featured in their pies: a recent nectarine pie was exquisitely sour. There are individual tarts, including the "signature" Rosebud Brûlée. Caramelized while you wait, this features a very sweet, very creamy, but lighter than most, crème brûlée with a faint taste of rose water, in a lemony crust. A few of the cakes and pies are available in slices, and they are all available whole. The best dessert deal (in the cafe and possibly in the city) is the chocolate chip cookie. Seventy-five cents and perfect.

Also, they have a cycle of daily breads, a couple for each day of the week. The hazelnut levain is amazing, as is the rye. But please, let me stop raving about this place. It's embarrassing.

Citizen Cake, 82 14th St., 415/861-2228.

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From the July 27-Aug. 9, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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