San Francisco: Elizabeth Falkner’s Orson

I don’t hide that I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Falkner. I borrowed her cookbook, Demolition Desserts, from my library twice last year; then later within the same year I had my own copy (a gift from my aunt). We made a detour through San Francisco when my family and I went to Disneyland, California back in October of last year (detailed in these two posts) and I made a stop at Orson, her second restaurant. Elizabeth Falkner made a name for herself with her first restaurant and bakery Citizen Cake along with her inventive, often whimsical, creations or deconstructions of familiar desserts in which only the simple essences are kept or are reinvented but at their core simplicity plays a key role. Both of her restaurants’ names play homage to Orson Welles.

Orson conveys a cool ambiance with its carefully crafted minimalist style that leaves a big, open space – a cross between a restaurant and art gallery, which reflects E. Falkner’s background in the arts (it was while going to school that she decided a change in direction, into culinary arts). I went in with my Dad, just to pop in – we didn’t have time for a proper sit down and I started to snap away with my camera almost as soon as we walked in, feeling slightly sheepish after my Dad asked one of the staff if taking pictures was okay (it was), having lost myself in my excitement that I felt was barely contained; my heart was giddy. I was starstruck. This was something I’d wanted to do since reading Demolition Desserts, to visit Elizabeth Falkner’s restaurants. (I had wanted to go first to Citizen Cake, although at the time we were in San Francisco the bakery was relocating to Filmore Street and it was only after we’d left that I learned there was a pop-up shop near Orson on 4th Street. The bakery’s new location should be open now.)

The main floor was the bar and dining area. On display at the bar counter were cupcakes and cookies, most likely from Citizen Cake, and I chose the lemon meringue (other two flavours were chocolate and vanilla, respectively) after much deliberation. It turned out to be the best lemon cupcake I’ve eaten. I’m not crazy about lemon desserts like my sister can be, but too often I think that the lemon  is just barely there, lingering only enough in the background so that you have a sense of a sour citrus, or it is overwhelmed by the sugar and it is cloyingly sweet. The lemon in this cupcake, however, was definite and upfront with just the right amount of sugar to cut the lemon’s tang and with a fluffy, light, delicate crumb, frosted with what seemed a meringue buttercream, it was a lemaniac’s dream cupcake.

The walls of the second floor were adorned with plaques and frames of Elizabeth Falkner’s achievements and accolades, as well as there being additional tables. I was so taken in my state of awe and excitement that I completely forgot about taking a picture; this forgetfulness taking on the strange manifestation of that I thought I’d already taken one as I drank it all in with my eyes.

Satisfied, we left the building. As we walked out with cupcake in hand, I said, “Next time, when we have more time, we’ll eat there.”

Orson Restaurant Bar and Lounge
508 4th Street, San Francisco
CA 94107


I was going to post this long ago, at the same time as my other two posts but I didn’t somehow. I was only reminded as I was writing my review of the book companion of Stephen Fry in America on trend & chic. (My review will be up this week.) So here we are, a bit overdue but another travel post. I’ve yet to make a recipe inspired by my trip there at Orson, but once I do I’ll be sure to post it here.

Is there a restaurant that you love or wanted to go to because of a cookbook, or that you would travel to dine there? If you’ve visited or lived in San Francisco, or still live there, do you have a favourite restaurant or other favourite eatery? What’s your favourite place to eat where you live?  Share it in the comments!

2 thoughts on “San Francisco: Elizabeth Falkner’s Orson

  1. This looks fantastic! I first saw her on Top Chef and her desserts were what amazed me. I like the layout and look of her restaurant and would love to sample from the source herself! I know her book is lovely but sometimes it is not quite the same. Are you going back and trying for a longer visit?

    1. I want to try to swing by Citizen Cupcake next time. Who knows, I might even get an opportunity to get some shots of Filmore Street, too, which has a rich cultural history and is where the bakery has relocated since as I mention in my post. Thanks for commenting!

Leave a Reply to Zoe Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s