Citizen Cake – San Francisco

Citizen Cake demands that you think about your food.

For instance, when you look at the dessert menu, you must think about what palette of flavors you want to experience as a sweet. I was torn between the “carrot cake parfait” (carrot sorbet, parsnip cake, fromage blanc, ginger ice cream, coconut foam) and the “bourbon street” (sweet potato pudding, bourbon molasses, streusel, sage brown butter ice cream), but I also could have gone for the “chocolate y picante” (dulce de leche glazed plantains, anson mills corn pudding and chili chocolate sorbet) or the “rockin’ road” (warm chocolate cake, black walnut ice cream, marshmallow foam and cocoa nib streusel). Then, you must think whether you want to pair it with the suggested alcohol (many of them, inspired) – such as Qi, a Lapsong Souchong Tea Liquor, for the carrot cake parfait or the Nocino Della Cristina Walnut Liqueur with the rockin’ road.

I chose the bourbon street, but without the suggested Knob Creek, Kentucky small batch bourbon whiskey, since I’d already had a cocktail (which I’ll get to later).

Bourbon Street

The pudding and the bourbon molasses were extraordinary, perfect companions in flavor and texture; the pudding creamy and bursting with a bright sweet potato flavor and the syrupy molasses with deeper notes. In fact, they were so good that, for the rest of what was on the plate, I could only think, Why are they there? The sage brown butter ice cream was very sugar-y, and a little buttery, but the sage flavor got lost somewhere; the streusel was neutral element that lacked a real place to go (I found no need to let it interfere with my pudding); that too-thin-to-taste carrot puree smear on top is meant for style, I guess; and the lime segments? I think that that they were meant to cut the sweet heaviness of the rest of the dessert, but they were too severe and clashed with the rest; they may as well have been replaced by a toothbrush instead. I just used the ice cream as a palate cleanser of sorts, but I wish it had a more assertive flavor. So, instead, I focused on devouring the pudding and molasses like I didn’t know any better.

Lemon Cookie

J and L got the lemon cookie. I was immediately charmed by the way that the filling is in line with the edges of the cookies, but when I broke off a piece, I was concerned by how flexible and soft the cookies were. I shouldn’t have worried, because once in the mouth, they explode with a lemon kick that makes its humble (esp for Citizen Cake) appearance a bit of a ruse. It’s a crave-worthy cookie, that I wished I could always have a stash of in my apt. It’s quite sweet and quite sour at the same time, so I suspect that it’s pulled off with a mix of meyer lemons and regular lemons, but I could be wrong.

Cit Cake Pastries

I wanted a fuller picture of this Citizen Cake, so I brought home a few pastries. From left to right, Winter in Provence Tart, S’Moon Pie, Vanilla Cupcake.

I was thrilled that Winter in Provence has a name and appearance that I love while, at the same time, is completely fantastic to eat. Contained in a chocolate tart shell is a lavender and chocolate ganache that is topped by a black pepper creme fraiche and is coated with shredded coconut. The herbal, chocolate, and sour components combine together so well for the flavors, while texturally, I liked that the creme fraiche layer is just a little lighter and looser than the ganache. And the coconut was a nice textural and flavorful component that I wish that the streusel had been in the bourbon street dessert. On the other end, the crust was just soft enough and had enough flavor to be an integral part, too; I usually don’t eat all of a crust, but here I did. I have liked playing around with chocolate and salt recently, so the sour component is something new for me to think about, especially with such clean flavors here.

Unfortunately, the S’Moon Pie and the cupcake were disappointing. The cracker on the bottom of the s’moon pie was too chewy and had too whole wheat-y of a taste to be enjoyable with the rather soft marshmallow filling and thin chocolate coating. Maybe the cracker was designed to infuse more flavor into the traditionally very sweet dessert, but if anything, I think that the good chocolate should be most prominent (maybe even in the form of a chocolate syrup btw the cracker and marshmallow for a suggestion of a hot s’more), then a more honey-ish note from the cracker, and then the sweetness of the (firmer) marshmallow. The cupcake had an icing with a strong vanilla flavor (and it was studded with vanilla seeds everywhere), but I think it was also too sweet and was a little too granular from the sugar in it. The cake was a bit dry and laced with tunnels from over-mixing that we’ve spent much energy in class to avoid.


On the savory side…. I had a L’Autostrada sandwich for lunch: ham, smoked turkey, salami, proscuitto, provolone with tomato-pepperoncini. The filling was very nice, and I loved the hint of spiciness from the tomato-pepperoncini… and was indulgent about the oil from the cheese and meats that came out of the sandwich when picked up or slightly squeezed. Unfortunately, the bread had too over-powering a texture for me. The outside was so stiff that I was tempted to knock on it like a door and then the inside was a bit too toothsome, but in a chewier way. The salad was good and fresh. And by the way, I once had an amazing Autostrade sandwich at Campanile‘s Grilled Cheese Night on Thursdays in LA, which was not only tasty, but had slices of proscuitto grilled to adhere onto the outside of the bread.

They also had a creative cocktail menu, and I was thrilled for a change of pace from wine. I got The Harlot, which had lillet blanc, cointreau, lime juice, and cranberry juice . It tasted like a tropical fruit punch crossed with a cosmo, with a balanced taste of alcohol. I liked it, and am happy to see lillet blanc pop up in cocktails.

We sat at the bar, and the service was attentive and affable. Be warned, though, that there might be a wait involved. We got there at about 2:30 and we waited for 20 mins. Then there was some confusion about whether they would serve desserts btw 3:00-5:30 because the kitchen was supposed to get ready for the evening, but then we were able to get dessert… So, I don’t know if plated desserts are available all day, but there are always treats in the pastry case.

On the whole, I had happiness and sadness with Citizen Cake, but it’s like a rollercoaster–even if it’s not always great, it’s still an interesting ride that leads you on surprising paths and sometimes around a loop-de-loop, like the Winter in Provence tart.

As a pastry student, these are some additional thoughts that I had about Citizen Cake:

  • For the desserts, the large number of elements in one dish is a safety net and a high risk venture at the same time. On the one hand, the more elements there are in a dish, the higher the chance that something will be off, but on the other hand, with so many elements in a dish, there is bound to be at least one thing that you like.
    Also, I like the variety of ingredients used and the creative uses for them individually and with other elements. Sometimes, I wished for greater focus, but as the lemon sandwich cookie shows, they are capable of that, too.
  • Also, style can go a long way. Beginning with its clever name (both intellectual and cute) and slick decor, people really want to like this place, and the appearance and combination of flavors in the desserts carry a large amount of cache. I was heartwarmed to see their squared edged cakes free of piped icing, but decorated instead with shards of chocolate cigars and chocolate shards sticking into or on them. On the other hand, call me literal, but I wish that there were more varieties of cakes; they were outnumbered by plated desserts, pastries, cookies, etc.
  • I like that there are a lot of traditionally savory elements in their desserts. I wish I could have tried more of them to see how they integrated them into sweet flavors… it must be more than just adding lots of sugar…

One Response to “Citizen Cake – San Francisco”

  1. Sweet Napa » Blog Archive » Pizza Three Times, Two Ways Says:

    […] On the third night, I was out of smoked salmon, but I had just come home from a day in San Francisco with a leftover half of my L’Autostrada sandwich that I’d taken home from Citizen Cake. After a brief hesitation, I thought “This will sandwich become pizza.” So, I removed the meat from inside, chopped it into squares, and used it to top my creme fraiche, sauteed spinach, capers, and avocado. I also sprinkled some Hawaiian red clay sea salt. It was also delicious, and a good thing for me to remember when I have leftovers in the future. […]

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