Friday, June 12, 2009

The Cupcake Crawl

For my friend Bianca's birthday celebration last weekend, she came up with a pretty clever celebration idea: a cupcake crawl. In the more traditional pub crawl, you walk from pub to pub, end up having a bit too much beer, have a jolly time, and generally end up feeling pretty awful. For a cupcake crawl, just replace the phrase "much beer" with "many cupcakes" in the previous sentence, and you'll get the picture. To be fair, I didn't feel awful after the cupcake crawl, but by the end of the day the thought of any more sugar was honestly pretty frightening.

Pub crawls are generally easy to organize because, in a city like San Francisco, essentially any neighborhood will have enough bars. Cupcakes are a bit more challenging. Luckily, cupcakes are super trendy these days and the posher neighborhoods of San Francisco have at least as many cupakeries as gelato shops and high-end pet stores, so a cupcake crawl is definitely possible.

The Marina

We started at Kara's Cupcakes in The Marina. Kara's had a huge selection to choose from, about 10 standard and 5 filled cupcakes, all available in normal or mini size. Given that we were planning to hit four more places after this and there were only four of us to start, we couldn't (sadly) try them all so we picked four of the most promising looking cupcakes.

Analyzing the menu at Kara's

Meyer lemon, passionfruit, fleur de sel, and java cupcakes

The fleur de sel cupcake came highly recommended by the girl behind the counter: it was a chocolate cake with a caramel filing, and a chocolate ganache topping sprinkled with flakes of fleur de sel. The salty, sweet, chocolatey flavor on this was outstanding and one of the most interesting things we sampled all day, although my personal favorite at Kara's was probably the passionfruit. I'm a sucker for all things passionfruit flavored — I know that's not the manliest thing to admit, but I just can't help it.

Just a few blocks away from Kara's is Miette, a French-style bakery and candy shop that makes several types of cupcakes (essentially miniature versions of their larger cakes). They had four cupcakes that day: chocolate with vanilla buttercream, chocolate with strawberry buttercream, chocolate "old fashioned" with a marshmallow cream topping, and ginger bread with a cream cheese frosting. We got one of each as well as an expensive but intriguing bacon chocolate bar (Mo's Bacon Bar from Vosges Haut Chocolat) and took them all over to the park at the nearby Moscone Recreation Center to sample.

Cupcakes from Miette and the mysterious bacon bar

All four cupcakes were good, but the ginger bread with cream cheese frosting was the clear winner. The ginger bread cake was moist and spicy, and the cream cheese frosting was rich but not too sweet. I will definitely be back for another of these at some point.

Sadly, I had to destroy the wonderful flavor in my mouth by sampling the bacon chocolate bar. It was much worse than I imagined, and I had imagined it being pretty bad. It had real pieces of bacon in it, but the flavor was pure smoke, and more smokey than any bacon I know of. It reminded me a bit of salty sweet chewing tobacco, or like what I'd imagine gnawing on a bar of Grandpa's Pine Tar Soap might taste like. I almost spit it out. I could see maybe enjoying this with a cigar and a glass of scotch, but I'd personally pass.

Cow Hollow

After mostly recovering from the encounter with the scary clown van, we headed to Cow Hollow to That Takes the Cake on Union St. The annual Union Street Fair was going on last weekend, so we got to watch lots of kids in jumping bouncy castles and getting nauseous on tea cup rides.

Tea cup ride at the Union Street Fair

The Cupcake Crawlers

Despite being a very pretty place run by nice people, I found the whole experience a bit saccharine. First they started with the name "That Takes the Cake," then they gave it the motto "Hand-frosted memories," and then to put the icing on the cake, so to speak, they gave all of their cupcakes cutesy names: the red velvet was called "Gentlemen Prefer Reds," the strawberry was called "The Prom Queen," and last but definitely least the vanilla with chocolate frosting was called "Alfred Hitchocolate." Perhaps not surprisingly, everything we tried was way over-the-top sweet even factoring in the cumulative sugar effect from the previous cupcakeries. Some people will love this place, but it was just too sweet for my taste.

A Prom Queen, a Gentlemen Prefer Reds, and a Lemon Drop

The Fillmore

The next stop on the route was Bittersweet in the Upper Fillmore. On a map, this looks pretty close to Cow Hollow, and in fact it is. But there's another neighborhood in between called Pacific Heights. The Marina is essentially at sea level, Pacific Heights is 370 ft higher up some of the steepest streets in San Francisco, so steep that the sidewalks turn into stairs towards the top. Luckily we had been supercharged by a month's worth of sugar, so we weren't daunted by the climb.

Where did this giant hill come from?

Looking back over the Marina towards Alcatraz

We made it to the Upper Fillmore, and found Muppets

By the time we made it to Bittersweet, we all were so tired of cupcakes that it was almost a relief to find that they didn't have any that day. We still stopped in and I got one of their famous bittersweet hot chocolates, which are incredible but seriously intense - the small cup is honestly a bit hard to finish, and I got a bit zippy like I do with coffee.

Boulangerie, a boulangerie

Our final stop was just down the street at Boulangerie, which happens to be a boulangerie. We were thwarted again - there were no cupcakes to be found, but this didn't make anyone overly sad. Their baked goods looked so amazing however, that I couldn't resist trying their plain croissants. I find it nearly impossible to find a good croissant in the Bay Area, but my search is now over - even after ridiculous amounts of cupcake and a hot chocolate that had my head spinning, this was one of the best croissants I've had anywhere and actually my favorite item from the whole crawl.

To Summarize:

Best Overall Cupcakery: Kara's Cupcakes
Best Individual Cupcake: Gingerbread cupcake with cream cheese frosting at Miette
Best Food Item All Day: Plain croissant at Boulangerie
Worst Food Item All Day: Bacon chocolate bar (Mo's Bacon Bar by Vosges Haut Chocolat)

4 comments:

Steve said...
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August Zang said...
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Andy M. said...
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LC said...
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