This week's review is of Citizen Cake ― or rather, Citizen Cake III, daughter of the Hayes Valley restaurant, granddaughter of Elizabeth Falkner's original pastry shop. As much as I've loved Falkner's imagination and skill, I did not respond well to the new place. I never want to be the person who condemns a restaurant based on its design ― I've eaten amazing food under the green-white glow of fluorescent lamps, or at tables I'd rather not touch with my bare hands. But in the case of the CCIII, to talk about the blank-canvas decor seemed fitting: The restaurant doesn't yet feel at ease with itself, or is months away from coming into its own.
The desserts, thankfully, represented Falkner at her best. I loved the verrines, and one of my guests is still talking about the salted caramel chocolate tart he ate. Another intriguing addition, which I had to delete from the review for space, was the sodas.
The sodas seem simple to for the servers to mix up: fizzy water perfumed with barely sweetened gum syrups (as any Bartenders' Guild member will tell you, gum arabic adds satiny viscosity). And the ingredient lists on the menu are both terse and poetic. However, I tried all of them, and all were interesting failures. For one, the servers haven't mastered the carbonation or the concentration of syrups to add, and the drinks range from fizzy and aromatic to pale and filled with langorous, flabby bubbles.
I'm not sure if the syrup concentration was off, but a "wood" soda that was supposed to contain cedar tasted most strongly of burnt coffee grounds, and one friend described the patchouli cola as "ginger ale for smelly hippies." Better was the straightforward "X burning house of love" (hibiscus soda with shadings of orange and chile); and the "looking glass" (peppermint, black pepper, gum mastic), darkly spiced and aromatic, haunted me as the meal progressed from appetizer to entree. Almost savory and compellingly odd, the last two sodas marked a direction I'd love to see Falkner pursue.