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The Sweet Lobby - Madeleines, Macarons, and Francophone Owners at 8th and D Street SE


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I stopped into the Sweet Lobby one afternoon, because it was such an unassuming storefront -- in the sense of, you almost don't even notice it -- that I had to see what was going on. Turns out a brother and sister team from a francophone country* were peddling, in order of increasing interest to me, delightful-looking cupcakes, colorful and creative macarons, and beautiful, perfect madeleines. Raspberry-rose? Orange and ginger? Green tea pistachio? Yes, please, to all of those. (It's possible I've read too much Proust.)

I haven't tried the cupcakes, which nonetheless look lovely -- not the behemoths you see elsewhere, with a nice glisten to the cake in the case, but not oily-looking, and fresh enough frosting (appears to be traditional buttercream base) that it won't remain absolutely perfect over varied weather conditions. But the macarons reminded me on first bite of Ladurée: not overly tooth-rottingly cloyingly sweet, with as much reverence given the cookie as the pastry cream. And the madeleines...well, let's just say that at this point the girl working the checkout -- which is an iPad, I kid you not -- recognizes me and when I joked I should get a "Frequent Madeleine Buyer "Call Me Proust"" card, she agreed ... OK, look, I'm eating the frakkin' green tea-pistachio ones right now and I'm thisclose to running up to 8th Street to get another four-pack.

Can't recall pricing of macarons or cupcakes, but $5.50 for a four-pack of madeleines? Oui, mes amies, and je vais vous rendre visite bientôt.

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I haven't tried the cupcakes, which nonetheless look lovely -- not the behemoths you see elsewhere, with a nice glisten to the cake in the case, but not oily-looking, and fresh enough frosting (appears to be traditional buttercream base) that it won't remain absolutely perfect over varied weather conditions.

I'm not much for sweets, and thus not at all on the current cupcake trend. But I have tried Sweet Lobby's cupcakes a couple of times now, and I have liked them--the cake is moist, not overly dense, and the frostings not too sugary--a decent buttercream (these were all variations on the vanilla cakes, not the chocolate). I have no idea how these stand up against any other local cupcake (outside of CakeLove, which they outshine by miles), but I don't think that most fans would be disappointed.

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The folks from Sweet Lobby are going to be featured on Food Network's Cupcake Wars on this coming Sunday at 10 PM, after the Super Bowl. There are going to be viewing parties at some bars, both on the Hill and not, featuring their cupcakes. The only one I'm sure of thus far is Tunnicliffs, across from Eastern Market.

ETA: Two other places that will be showing the episode (with cupcakes!) are The Ugly Mug on Barracks Row and Elephant and Castle at 12th and Pennsylvania, NW.

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I'd heard about Sweet Lobby shortly after it opened and later since it received a lot of press coverage. Even before winning Food Network's 'Best Cupcake Ever Contest' (or whatever that show is called), the story of the owners (one an MIT-trained PhD scientist doing a post-doc at NIH) made for a compelling and unusual story.

But until a mention of the shop this past week by Bookluvingbabe on a different thread served to remind me about Sweet Lobby, I hadn't ever been.

I'm a fan of great macarons (more than cupcakes) and hold La Duree in Paris as a global benchmark. There's something about the skill, process and ingredients they use there which produces macarons unlike any I've had anywhere else, including at their own shops in the UK.*

Here in the DC area, I've thought most places selling macarons are pretty far off the mark of that La Duree benchmark with Tout de Sweet in Bethesda and Praline in Bethesda the best two.

So, off to Sweet Lobby with much anticipation to try their macarons and, maybe, a madeleine or two.

In two words: really good. Not quite as good as the originals in France but at least as good, and maybe slightly better, than the two locals I'd thought best previously. I'm not sure about that since it has been awhile since I've had either. Perhaps all three are pretty close.

At higher level, Sweet Lobby is a wonderful and interesting shop. I'd wondered about whether it sold coffee not seeing that made clear in this thread or elsewhere online. Also wondered whether there was any seating.

They don't and there isn't.

And that's okay. The owners have real focus and thus are not planning on introducing coffee since they're across the street from a Starbucks and real coffee hounds have Peregrine just a block away. Probably a good decision since Sweet Lobby does offer high quality looseleaf teas.

The lack of seating is simply due to the space being very small so this is more a bakeshop/store than a cafe.

Bottom line, Sweet Lobby is a wonderful shop with high quality products and some wind in its sails from all the promotion and cable television attention. They have a pretty narrow offering (just cupcakes, macarons, madeleines and one or two other things along with the loose leaf teas and fewer than 10 macaron flavors at one time). Whether that mix will be enough to sustain the business isn't yet clear but they have a great location with lots of foot traffic and I love that they seem to put real passion and commitment into their products.

* La Duree has shops in many countries now, including one in the US (NYC) but I've only been to them in France and in the UK so far. Never remember to stop by when in NY.

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