Monday, November 26, 2012

Anatomy of Red Velvet Cupcakery

Hazelnut Cafe

Tucked inside a small 7th Street space in the busy Penn Quarter, Red Velvet Cupcakery doesn't necessarily look like a place you'd go for a sweet fix, but looks can be deceiving. In a neighborhood jammed with places to eat, it's nice to have somewhere to go for dessert (even if it only costs $3.25 a pop.)

RVC's tiny quarters are off-putting at first, but a friendly cashier (Mikyla) was quick to point out that I could take my cupcake next door to the uber modern Tangy Sweet and eat it there (you have to check this place out.) Rather than walk outside with my cake and napkin (that's all you get to carry it) I asked if I could eat it here: No problem, except for the fact that there's nowhere to really stand (except over a trash can by the front door.) Strike one.

The selection varies at each of RVC's three locations (Clarendon & Reston) but when I downloaded each of their menus, they were identical. A dozen cupcakes is good enough I suppose, but when it's all you sell... Strike two.

I settled on their Featured Flavor, Hazelnut Cafe. Rich hazelnut cake, sexy (their words, not mine) espresso buttercream and espresso powder. This was the second time I ordered it in the last week (the first time, the top portion/icing came apart from the rest of the cake after peeling away the liner.) Once again, the cake started to crumble when I tried to remove the wrapper. It's already difficult to handle (with just one napkin) but falling apart is a big no-no in my book (especially twice in a row.) Strike three.

The cake itself was incredibly dry, saved by the inclusion of actual hazelnuts inside (which added a nice crunch.) To be fair, it was 7:00 PM when I bought it... but they stay open until 11 (I wonder how they stay fresh all day?) Thankfully, the delicious buttercream icing made up for the cake's shortcomings. Impossibly airy and rich in flavor, this icing ranks as one of my favorites in the entire area.

If asked for advice, I'd suggest providing two napkins or some kind of container for take away (their competition already does.) Second, install some kind of small counter for eating in (I know it's a tight fit, but you need something.) Red Velvet Cupcakery gets point for friendly staff and top notch icing; but not enough to recommend frequenting.

Appearance: B- (It looks awfully nice, until it starts falling apart.)
Store Atmosphere: F (It's like eating in a closet.)
Cake: D- (Hazelnuts save it from total disaster.)
Icing: B+
Value: C
Service: B+ (It can't be easy working in such a tiny space.)
Overall: D+ (Eating a dry cake that falls apart easily... in tight quarters = Not good.)