After last month's NYC cupcake tour that put us in a cupcake coma, we decided to replicate the fun and go on a cupcake tasting tour in San Francisco. The cupcake scene in San Francisco is still in its infancy compared to NYC. There aren't many pure cupcakeries in the Bay Area, but the number of shops is slowly growing. After a little research, the cupcake shops on the tour were...
To burn off as many calories as possible between our cupcake eating, I made the event a walking tour and chose the shops and route accordingly. The plan was to start at the Ferry Building with Miette and work our way across the city to the Marina with a lunch stop in North Beach.
We met Jane at 9:30 am at the Ferry Building for breakfast. The thought of starting the day with a cupcake wasn't appetizing, so we needed to get something in our stomachs. Hungry Bear and I chose a tasty egg, bacon and cheese breakfast sandwich from the Golden Gate Meat Company, while Jane minimized her carb intake by getting sausage on a stick.
With breakfast out of the way, it was time to start sampling cupcakes. Jane's friends, Isaac and Liz, met us at 10:00 am at Miette Cakes. Hungry Bear handed out the scorecards for ratings/tasting notes and the cupcake tasting commenced. Similar to our NYC tour, the plan was to use the chocolate chocolate cupcake as the benchmark at each shop.
Much to our surprise, there wasn't a double chocolate cupcake available. The closest one was chocolate with coffee buttercream frosting. In total, we sampled four cupcakes at Miette. The highlight of the four was the Old-Fashioned — a chocolate cupcake with Italian meringue topped with a candy coated peanut.
Everyone enjoyed this cupcake and thought it had a great chocolate flavor. Jane and Liz declared it the best overall cupcake on the tour. They both rated it highest in terms of appearance, cake/frosting texture and flavor. The other Miette cupcakes were good, but no comparison to the Old-Fashioned.
The next stop was the highly anticipated Citizen Cupcake, the sibling of Elizabeth Falkner's Citizen Cake, at the top of the Virgin Megastore in Union Square. From the moment we stepped into the cafe, it was a big disappointment. It should be renamed Citizen Cafe, because the emphasis is on being a cafe and bar, not a cupcake shop.
To make things worse, the cupcakes were sub par. Once again, there was no double chocolate cupcake. The buttercream frosting on the cupcakes we tasted were entirely too sweet. And the cake was dry and too crumbly.
During our visit, we learned that the cupcakes are made at Citizen Cake and sent to this location. I would recommend just going to Citizen Cake, where you can also select from other pastries and desserts. With the name Citizen Cupcake, I was expecting a place that celebrated the cupcake, but sadly there was no cupcake love.
After two cupcake stops, we walked towards North Beach and grabbed a savory snack. Hungry Bear, Jane and I shared some Vietnamese banh bao — steamed buns filled with pork, vermicelli, hard-boiled egg and Chinese sausage — from Little Paris. Liz and Isaac grabbed sandwiches at Molinari Deli. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we enjoyed our lunch in Washington Square Park.
That Takes the Cake
After lunch, we strolled over to That Takes the Cake in Cow Hollow. The shop has only been open for three weeks. It's a tiny store with a nice layout and it was all about the cupcakes! The only downside is the lack of inside seating. However, it was a nice day, so we took advantage of their two tables outside, where our friend, Brennan, was gracious enough to finally join us.
That Takes the Cake currently has thirteen flavors and serves eight flavors daily. Unfortunately, they do not offer the Double Trouble — chocolate buttermilk cake topped with chocolate buttercream frosting — on Saturdays. We did get the following...
- Gentlemen Prefer Reds - traditional southern red velvet cake topped with cream cheese frosting.
- Funky Monkey - moist banana cake with chocolate and pecan pieces topped with cream cheese frosting.
- Seasonal - strawberry cake with cream cheese frosting.
- Bunny Bites - moist carrot cake with pecans and pineapple topped with cream cheese frosting.
- Sleepless in SF - chocolate buttermilk cake topped with coffee buttercream.
The playful cupcake names are quite amusing. Isaac was thoroughly impressed with their cake/frosting combinations and relished each cupcake. We all agreed they did a good job with the flavor profiles and with the cake/frosting textures. I really liked the chunks of chocolate and pecans in the Funky Monkey and the pecans and pineapples bits in the Bunny Bites. The chunks added nice textures to the normal cupcake crumb.
Next we took a short walk to Kara's Cupcakes in the Marina. The shop is very chic and sleek compared to the other stores. It was also the busiest cupcakery that we visited all day. Kara's finally had the chocolate chocolate cupcake we were hoping to taste. The cupcakes we had were...
- Chocolate Velvet - chocolate cupcake with a velvety bittersweet chocolate buttercream.
- Fleur De Sel - chocolate cupcake with caramel filling, ganache frosting and fleur de sel.
- Coconut - vanilla cupcake with a coconut cream cheese frosting.
- Kara's Karrot - moist carrot cupcake with a silky soft cream cheese frosting.
Hungry Bear and I were extremely happy to get our double chocolate fix and the Fleur De Sel cupcake blew us away. The ganache was rich with a strong chocolate taste. The caramel filling was an added bonus and didn't overpower the chocolate goodness. Finally, the salty crunch of the fleur de sel was a nice contrast to the sweet caramel. The other cupcakes also had moist textures and good flavors, but it was hard to compete with the Fleur De Sel cupcake.
The final stop on the tour, the Chestnut Bakery, was only a block away. At this point, we were on the cupcake edge and were ready to finish the tour. The cupcakes at Chestnut Bakery were a little odd. The cake had a super airy, spongy texture. The frosting also had a strange consistency. We barely touched the cupcakes and left unimpressed by them.
After reviewing our tasting notes, and with much contemplation, I present the shop rankings from our 2007 San Francisco Cupcake Tasting Tour.
Cupcake Tour Rankings (1 = Best, 5 = Least Liked)
|Cupcake Shop||Isaac||Liz||Jane||Hungry Bear||Chuck|
|That Takes the Cake||1||2 (tie)||2||2||2|
|Kara's Cupcakes||2||2 (tie)||3||1||1|
Similar to NYC, there wasn't a consensus winner. However, the clear losers on the tour were Citizen Cupcake and Chestnut Bakery, as they were rated in the bottom two by everyone. The cupcakes at both shops had major flaws and were quite disappointing. Neither shop is in the same league as the other three cupcakeries on the tour.
It is interesting to note that Liz and Jane rated Miette the best due to the Old-Fashioned cupcake. And Hungry Bear and I rated Kara's the highest in large part due to the Fleur De Sel cupcake. These two cupcakes were the highest regarded cupcakes by the group. Both cupcakes were unique and memorable.
I was completely torn between Kara's Cupcakes and That Takes the Cake, but ultimately my chocolate bias won out and I gave the nod to Kara's because of the Fleur De Sel. With that said, I think That Takes the Cake has the most original cupcakes in terms of flavor combinations and cake textures. I will have to go back another day and try the Double Trouble chocolate cupcake and see if it will change my ranking.
It was an epic day of cupcake tasting. We learned from our NYC experience and made our cupcake tour an all day activity (10:00 am to 4:30 pm). With the slower pace and planned savory lunch stop, it was a relaxing day of cupcake eating and exploration of the northeastern part of San Francisco.
We enjoyed many delicious cupcakes during our tour. After five shops and twenty-one shared cupcakes, we all said, "No mas!" As we were leaving the last shop, we were feeling a little lethargic, but grateful that we didn't completely over-indulge... no cupcake coma after this tour!
In the end, we had a very fun day hanging out with old and new friends. And we found three cupcake shops — Miette Cakes, That Takes the Cake and Kara's Cupcakes — that could easily satisfy a cupcake craving. More importantly, we discovered three places that understood and celebrated the beauty of the cupcake. We definitely felt the cupcake love at these shops!
Tour Participants: Brennan, Liz, Isaac, Jane, Hungry Bear, Chuck
[tags]cupcakes, chocolate, ganache, tour, cupcakery, red velvet, cream cheese, frosting[/tags]