Friday, July 8, 2011

Cupcakes: Reporting from New York City!!!

After a nerve-wracking visa interview and a 19-hour flight, I am back in New York! Being here does not only mean I get to attend my sister's wedding, but I could also get to try all the cupcakes that have been made famous in New York City. It has been a tiring but fun week with dinners and lunches to go to, friends and family to meet, preparations leading to my sisters wedding and of course, discovering the city that is New York.

After mustering all my strength and confidence to venture into the city alone without the aid of a 3G-enabled phone (which would allow me to access maps and routes anywhere in case I get lost), I was able to navigate through the avenues and streets of NY much easier than I thought. The city is set up in a grid, and the subway system in a similar manner. There are so many subway stops scattered around the city that wherever your destination is, there is bound to be a train or bus that can take you there or a walkable distance from it. Taxis are abundant, and they are very convenient to use; however, fares can get expensive and you will be under the mercy of the New York City traffic. My mom laughed at me as I headed out earlier today as she said, "You haven't even gone to Divisoria alone and here you are going around New York!"

NY Cakes, Flatiron District

Weekend Market at Union Square Park

Le Bronx

Bakeries at Arthur Avenue, Bronx

A variety of olives, capers and pickles--Arthur Avenue Market
Deli at Arthur Avenue Market

Olives and Pickles at Teitel Bros.

Oh. My. God.

Cakes at De Lillo's

De Lillo's
Espresso and Cannoli at De Lillo's, Little Italy, Bronx.
So after a couple of afternoons spent exploring popular parts of NYC, I made plans to get cupcakes at Billy's Bakery, Magnolia Bakery and Sprinkles Cupcakes, which would prove to be a challenge because they are nowhere near each other. First stop was Billy's Bakery. I went to their location at Chelsea, and I have to say, I found the place very charming. The yellow subway tile and vintage wallpaper gave the shop, well, a vintage feel. The AC was a welcome relief from the summer heat. The bakery had one table and banquet seating so this definitely discourages lingering around. The gentleman behind the counter was very helpful, though he was lacking a smile that I would have really appreciated. And it wasn't even a busy afternoon.

Billy's Bakery; 184 9th Avenue, between 21st and 22nd Streets

I got a box of four cupcakes: red velvet, chocolate chocolate, carrot cream cheese cupcakes and of course, vanilla vanilla. At $11.00 for a box of four, it was a bit pricey. The cupcakes looked like they had the old fashioned buttercream frosting because of the crust it seemed to have. And since I ran the risk of letting the frostings melt in the summer heat, the crusting buttercream gave me a little more confidence to carry them around city while I get my other cupcakes.

After Billy's I headed straight to Magnolia Bakery, then at Sprinkles Cupcake (which I will blog in other entries). It was a long day so I looked forward to rewarding myself with a taste of Billy's Bakery cupcakes.

So after dinner at home, I took out the cupcakes so Mama, my sister and I could taste them.
We had the red velvet with cream cheese frosting first, as this is one of the more, if not the most, popular flavors of cupcake in the city.

Red Velvet Cupcake

Red Velvet - $3.00
I have to say I was stunned when I found myself unimpressed with the Red Velvet. The cake base looked moist but upon taking a bite, the cake was the opposite. It was dry with a faint chocolate flavor. The frosting was more like a buttercream than a cream cheese frosting, with the tell-tale sign of crusting on top. At some point, my sister said that the cupcake tasted like boxed mix. It did provide some comfort, but so can a box of Kraft Mac n Cheese or a steaming bowl of sinigang.

And so we moved on to the Yellow Daisy cupcake: a yellow cupcake with a vanilla frosting and dainty sprinkles on top. I thought this cupcake was really cute, but to be honest, this was charming at best.  The first thing that hits you is the sugary frosting that has very little vanilla flavor and the texture is a little denser than I would like. And after lugging the box around NYC in the summer heat while weaving in and out of human traffic, how could the frosting even survive?! Does Billy's Bakery use, dare I say it, SHORTENING?! Meh, I'm not really entirely opposed to that (SHOCKING!), but for the price they are asking for these 3oz cupcakes, they'd better be using some butter.

As with the Red Velvet, this was a little comforting, but at $2.50 a pop, this comfort does not come cheap. (And there's comfort I like waaay better. There's a liquor store in Long Beach that sells San Mig Light for 2 bucks. Hehehe.)

Yellow Daisy Cupcake (Vanilla Vanilla) - $2.50
Already getting full from all the cupcakes, we reluctantly tried the classic chocolate cupcakes. This cupcake smelled of good cocoa, and the cake looked like it had plenty of it. We found the frosting a little too sweet, but it compensated for the lack of flavor in the cupcake, which was surprising because it did smell like it had plenty of good cocoa. It also had good body to it, and I really like a frosting that you could sink your teeth into. The cake was again a bit dry but this was more enjoyable than the rest of the cupcakes we already tried.

Chocolate Chocolate Cupcakes - $2.50
By this time, Mama and my sister had already raised the white flag so I was left to taste the carrot cupcake by myself. It was a good thing that I saved this for last because I liked this the most. The cupcake had discernible bits of carrot and walnut that provided body and texture. It also seemed to have shredded sweetened coconut in the batter which helped with the texture and moistness but that did very little to add flavor. The cream cheese frosting was a miss though, because it had very little of the tang that I like in cream cheese. The frosting crusted as well, which leads me to believe that there is more sugar and butter (?) in the frosting than cream cheese. The cake was great on its own, and the frosting was a superfluous addition.

Carrot Cupcakes - $3.00

I wish I had more cupcakes from Billy's to try, but at $11.00 for a box of four, and two more bakeries to visit, I might not have enough money for the train ride to Long Beach. So I will give my best effort to be fair.

If I were asked to rate Billy's from 1 to 10, 10 being the highest, I wouldn't. People come to Billy's for a number of reasons. They could be seeking comfort, seeking to satisfy a sweet tooth, or seeking attention. But if I'm seeking for great cupcakes, this would be one of the last places I'd look. For a place known for its cupcakes, Billy's disappoints. They were okay, okay, but it wasn't exactly the roll-my-eyes-in-ecstasy and I-just-died-and-gone-to-heaven experience I was made to expect from some reviews. But hey, they're cupcakes. They are fun, and not to be taken too seriously. With that said, would I come back to try the rest of the cupcakes? Only if I'm not paying. Would I recommend Billy's? Yes, go at least once. Is Billy's worth the hype? Not so much. Billy's worth the calories? Absolutely....not. But heck, I'm not complaining! I'm in New York City!

And that wraps up my 1st of several cupcake report from NYC. Next in line, Sprinkles Cupcakes! (Gosh I sound like a dork.)

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