When I first heard about Yocake — or as the owners prefer to shout it, YOCAKE, as if Rocky had given Adrian a new nickname — I suspect my reaction was similar to 99.9 percent of the people who encounter the place: Are you kidding? A shop that combines a cupcake and frozen yogurt, two of the biggest sugar rushes of the past five years, in one plastic cup?
What next? A machine that dispenses a swirl of gourmet ground beef and tomato froyo over a bacon cupcake? Served with a high-alcohol microbrew fermented with an ancient Mayan wild yeast strain re-created in an MIT laboratory? Maybe they could call it Blueberry Burger Cakes. Kids could tell their folks they want to watch the BBC.
Yocake’s concept, however, doesn’t seem so wacky when you actually visit the place, as I did this weekend in Rockville, the budding chain’s second and newest location. (Sibling owners Edward Quach and Ellen Quach, incidentally, are working on a third location on M Street NW, near Dupont, due sometime this summer.)
At first look, Yocake exudes an air of genuine craft, not gimmickry. I didn’t graze widely across its selection of macarons, cupcakes, scones, cookies, cakes and froyo, but I wanted to. They looked that enticing.
I did, however, try two of Yocake’s namesake cupcake-froyo combos, and as soon as I took the cup to a nearby table, I remembered how natural the pairing is. It’s cake and ice cream in a cup, pre-mixed, kind of like grade-schoolers who combine their lunch-room foodstuffs to gross out their peers. It helps that most of Yocake’s yogurts are the sweet kind, not the trendy tart stuff. Think TCBY not Pinkberry.
“Since Ellen has always been a really great baker and I personally love frozen yogurt, we decided to put them together,” said Edward Quach during a phone chat. “We always loved ice cream cake.”
Yocakes, alas, do not have the aesthetic beauty of ice cream cakes. Pulling a swirl of froyo atop a cupcake, after all, pretty much destroys the visual appeal of the cake, not to mention its structural integrity and its flavor balance. In some ways, I’m surprised a shop that produces such elegant little cakes would allow you to drown them in nonfat yogurt. It’s like covering a wedding cake in a mountain of ice cream just to save the catering crew some time. But such is the price of dealing in forced gimmicks: Someone or something is always compromised, this time it’s those carefully constructed and decorated cakes produced in Ellen’s kitchen (based on recipes from her mother, a French-trained baker).
For those who want to indulge in Yocake’s namesake combo, your hardest decision will be picking a pairing worthy of your palate. (For the indecisive, Yocake lists some popular combinations on its Web site.) I chose a triple chocolate cupcake topped with strawberry froyo ($3.95 for the two). My friend picked a lemon cupcake topped with strawberry froyo and garnished with little molecular pearls of strawberry juice (same price as mine, with 99 cents more for the topping). Both cups were considerably more than passable; I dare say we enjoyed them. We wolfed down way too much dessert, given we had just finished a marathon lunch a few minutes earlier.
To prevent further loading of unnecessary calories in the name of my job, we threw away our still half-full cups. Otherwise, we were helpless woodland creatures in the face of Yocake’s awesome powers.
As much as I liked my Yocake, one thought kept crossing my mind as I spooned those little scoops of cake and froyo: I wished I had ordered the Ellen Quach’s rich chocolate cupcake by itself.
-- Tim Carman (March 19, 2012)