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Cups and Cakes Bakery, San Francisco

Photo credit: Megan Gordon

Cups and Cakes Bakery is located at 451 9th Street in San Francisco.  Rachel and I discovered this place from Sara Lidstrom on Twitter.  I forget who first followed who but Sara responded to one of my tweets back on New Years about dining at Bacar telling me that she used to be the pastry chef there.  One rainy weekend a while back, Rachel and I were looking for something to do and after sending a tweet looking for suggestions Sara responded suggesting that we come down to the Cups and Cakes Bakery where she works to try some cupcakes.  I think this is where all the marketers out there take note of the word-of-mouth marketing capabilities of Twitter.  Well, we did indeed head down to Cups and Cakes Bakery on Sara's suggestion and I'm glad we did.  

Now you're not going to find a whole lot going on around the 400 block of 9th Street (SOMA) but two things are certain - you're sure to find a parking spot and some great tasting cupcakes!  We tried the lemon drop (sweet lemon cake, tart lemon curd filling and lemon buttercream frosting) and it did not disappoint - lots of lemon, very moist cake.  We ordered a killer carrot (nut-free carrot cake, cream cheese frosting and candied carrots on top) and it was tasty and different - no nuts in your carrot cake? - sure why not.  The meghan's margarita sounded adventurous so we gave it a shot, it was made with lime cake, margarita buttercream (with tequila) and sprinkles.  I couldn't really taste the tequila but that's probably a good thing.  This one may have been a little too 'out of the box' for me - it was good but kind of a strange taste I've never had before.

We tried a chocolate cupcake because it's almost a requirement when eating cupcakes and also quality indicator of sorts.  We ordered the fauxstress which was chocolate cake, vanilla buttercream filling, ganache dipped with a white swirly frosted top.  I remember this one being really good.  The ganache was a good call - I'll probably be ordering this again on my next trip back.  

The highlight was the creme de la creme with brown butter frosting and caramel filling.  This is one you just need to try - hard to explain.  You can check out Cups and Cakes' web site here, where you will find a whole slew of interesting flavors including the pancake breakfast with maple bacon cake, maple buttercream and small bits of bacon on top.  Who doesn't like bacon, right?

If you get a chance, check out the blog post from Megan Gordon (Bay Area food blogger) on Bay Area Bites where she details the pancake breakfast cupcake.  Also, check out the interesting story behind the owner Jennifer and how she started this business.


Ramblas, San Francisco

Ramblas is located at 557 Valencia St in San Francisco.  This past Sunday, Rachel was in the mood for a tapas style meal (small dishes) and we both felt the urge to head back to an old favorite in the Mission district.  Ramblas offers very authentic Spanish style tapas and some great tasting Sangria to boot.

On this trip we ventured a bit outside of our normal fare and tried a couple dishes that were recommended by our server.  The Organic House-Made Flatbread came with a fromage blanc (from cowgirl creamery) two very flavorful sauces - a house made salsa verde and a romesco that had an incredible hearty tomato flavor.  Rachel ordered the Star Route Farms Mixed Greens which were very tasty but we both agreed that the various ingredients (pine nuts, dry jack, fennel) seemed to get lost in the dish.  Maybe it was a bit overcooked?  

We ordered the Organic Squash Empanadillas made of Redwood Hill Farm goat cheese, roasted winter squash, currants, pine nuts, pistachio, pecan and fall spices with a pimento aioli sauce on the side.  They were tasty and perfect bite sized pieces.  Of course we had to order our favorite Tortilla Espanola which they prepared vegetarian (without jamon serrano).  It had winter root vegetables, wild mushrooms and sherry caramelized onions with an aioli sauce on the side.  I would be satisfied with just one big entree of Tortilla Espanola and Ramblas serves theirs up with a lot of flavor, perfectly complimented with the aioli sauce.

As I powered through a perfectly cooked Flat Iron Steak (organic grass-fed beef, chive potato cake, piperade, roasted scallion, capers and a very tasty port reduction) - Rachel had room for one more dish. To round out our tapas dining experience, Rachel ordered the Organic Coke Farms Escarole - which in all honesty fell short of its adventurous name.  I think it may have been overcooked - but we both agreed it too salty.

We seemed to strike out in the service department this past Sunday as both our brunch at Bacar and dinner at Ramblas ended with poor service.  The attitude and personality of our server at Ramblas however made up for the longer than desired 'commercial breaks' towards the end of the meal.  No worries though - because we'll be back!   Happy hour special runs 4-7pm I believe.  Ramblas web site.


La Briciola, San Francisco

La Briciola is located at 489 3rd Street in San Francisco.  It's been a while since Rachel and I have had a poor dining experience here in San Francisco - probably because we tend to stick with a select few that are favorites.  The dinner we had at La Briciola this past Saturday evening was by far my worst experience with Italian food while in San Francisco and is up there as one of my all time worst meals.

I'm not sure if it was just that night or in general but this restaurant was mis-firing on pretty much all cylinders.  The menu was a bit confusing featuring a crepe dish as an appetizer (French) and an olive oil/ bread starter with kalamata olives (Greek) mixed in with the oil.  The Pinot Grigio I ordered was not only over-chilled but lacked any flavor and almost tasted watered down.  The Barbera that Rachel ordered was off and what was worse is the second wine she ordered (Sangiovese) wasn't any better.   Three strikeouts in the wine department.

The biggest dissapointment was the small piece of Halibut I ordered served in a large ceramic dish that felt like it was 350 degrees.  The fish was overcooked void of flavor or texture.  As an entree featured in one of the second course sections of the menu, we thought it would come with roasted potatoes and vegetables but no such luck.

Rachel's spinach and ricotta ravioli dish had traces of freshness but covering the small portion of raviolis was an unexciting marinara sauce - it actually tasted like it was from a jar.

Our waiter was nice but not very attentive and he failed to come by to check on our entrees (maybe fearing the response).

All I could do is look around to see if anyone else in the restaurant shared my displeasure.  Maybe the restaurant was playing a practical joke on me?  

Needless to say - we left very disappointed never to return and cruised up the street to Bacar to finish the night off with dessert and a nightcap.  A much better experience at Bacar, great dessert (Milky Way) paired with Grahams Tawny 10 year and Rachel had some Vanilla Pot de Creme paired with an Apricot flavored appertif.


Dell' Anima Restaurant, New York


Dell' Anima is located at 38 8th Avenue in NY.  Rachel and I selected this restaurant straight from our Zagat guide as it was in close proximity to Chelsea Piers where we went bowling.  I usually refer back to the online menu of restaurants to add to my editorial but Del' Anima only reveals their lunch menu online.  I ordered the grilled octopus as an appetizer and flank stank as my entree and both were amazing paired with an Italian wine suggested by our waiter.  I wish I had the name of the wine since it went so well with my meal - it wasn't as heavy as a Cab or as earthy as a Pinot but a lighter red.  Rachel really enjoyed her meal as well.  One tip is that if you dine at the kitchen bar - it can get very hot being so close to the chefs.  We braved the hot temp to get a birdseye view of the chefs in action.   This place was a great find!  Restaurant web site here.


El Quijote Restaurant, New York

This restaurant is located at 226 West 23rd Street in NY.  We came across this authentic Spanish restaurant on our way to Chelsea Piers and it was a pretty neat find. We were looking for a light meal since we planned on having dinner later in the evening.  From our Zagat guide, we read that this place can get very crowded - so luckily we arrived early enough to beat the crowds and grab a seat at the bar.

Rachel ordered a "Santiago Margarita" which was invented by the bartender named Santiago who served us and has been tending bar there for 15 years.  I tried a sangria which was good although not filled with fruit like I usually like.  We were served complimentary Mejillones Quijote which are
mussels served in a light red sauce with a slice of french bread and since Rachel is a vegetarian - I was treated to a double portion.

We ordered Tortilla Espanola (one of our favorite Spanish dishes, quiche like dish with potatoes and onion), Asparagus Vinaigrette (white Asparagus served with a vinaigrette sauce, served cold) and Papas Bravas (cubed potatoes served with a cream sauce -lighter than we are used to but this was tasty with a kick).  Everything not only tasted great but was very authentic based on our experience in Spain a couple years back.

This establishment is old - I believe dating back to the 1930s - and the waiters and decor reflect this.  You'll find many Don Quijote statuettes all around the restaurant and bar along with arched doorways in a dimly lit setting.  It's a unique departure from more contemporary and trendy restaurants and I think is a necessary departure when in search of authentic culture that gets lost at newer Spanish style tapas restaurants.

All in all - an unexpected and suprising find for us in New York City and one that we would recommend to others.