April 24, 2002


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Citizen Spencer


POPPED BY THE old Citizen Cake space a few days ago – the magical one on 14th Street, behind Rainbow Grocery – and found chef-owner Lawrence Katgely toiling in the courtyard. Though his restaurant, Chez Spencer, will not open at the location until mid May, there is already a profusion of potted plants soaking up the Mission sun. Inside, meanwhile – beyond the wall of glass that faces south – the interior seems to have been all but gutted, except for the large brick oven that was the anchor of the original Citizen Cake, until that bakery moved to a faceless building in the Civic Center and was replaced at the 14th Street site by a faceless dot-com ad agency, which presumably has gone to its reward, if there can be such a thing for dot-com ad agencies.

One thing Chez Spencer will have a lot more of is inside seating. Citizen Cake had virtually none: just a couple of wobbly tables inside the door and a few stools at the counter. Of course, the glory of the space, then and now, was the broad, sheltered courtyard; once all those potted plants are in position and all the tables set, few restaurants will be able to match the fresh face Chez Spencer will be presenting to the world.

And speaking of fraîche: Our friends at the California Milk Advisory Board want us to know that California is now producing some of the world's finest crèmes fraîches. Crème fraîche, if you didn't know, combines elements of sour cream, whipped cream, and plain old cream; it often ends up in or near desserts, as a boost to richness and a counterpoint to sugar, but it also works in various sauces and salad dressings.

Some of the fanciest dairies in northern California – Bellwether Farms, Cowgirl Creamery, and Kendall Farms, among others – have gotten into the crème fraîche racket. But here's a secret. It's unbelievably easy to make your own. Here is the recipe from Patricia Wells's Simply French (Hearst, $20, and a first-rate cookbook, if I may say): Whisk one cup heavy cream and one cup sour cream in a medium-size bowl (I use a stainless-steel mixing bowl). Cover and set aside at room temperature for about a day, until the mixture thickens. Put it in the refrigerator for about four hours, until it's chilled. It will keep for a week if stored, refrigerated, in a sealed container.

I have to say, as a follower of recipes, that this one is about as simple and inexpensive as they come. And, at the end of the day – literally! – you will have a condiment to impress any guest.

Paul Reidinger paulr@sfbg.com