Dining Out: Le Pain Quotidien


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By COURTNEY  HO

STAFF WRITER

Courtney Ho/The Ram When you yearn for a salad fit for a king, head to Le Pain Quotidien for your fix.

Courtney Ho/The Ram When you yearn for a salad fit for a king, head to Le Pain Quotidien for your fix.

For all the five of you beautiful people out there who actually read what I write and who have humbly followed me throughout the years of my culinary escapades, you know that I do not eat salads. I do not write about them—I hardly even look at them. I am not a rabbit. I am not a depressed vegetarian. But there are times when even I, a dedicated and indulgent carnivore, am compelled to bow down to the mesmerizing simplicity of a good salad.

I have only ever liked one salad in my life, and I order it at a restaurant that is not even known for its salads. There is a place called Le Pain Quotidien (pronounced luh pan koh-ti-dyan), a chain restaurant vigorously dedicated to serving high quality, organic food. The name literally translates into “the daily bread.”

“Wait, Courtney, did you just mention a chain restaurant? Like T.G.I. Friday’s?”

No, Reader. Le Pain Quotidien was founded in 1990 in Brussels by Alain Coumont. Over the years, it became an international phenomenon, with locations throughout the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. Even though Le Pain Quotidien was started by a Belgian chef in Belgium, this restaurant is by no means representative of Belgian cuisine. You will be missing the signature Belgian chocolate and beer.

“No chocolate and no beer? Why should I even go?” Good question, Reader. I have a few reasons: the atmosphere, the pastries and, of course, the salad.

The restaurant goes out of its way to provide diners with that rustic, casual European green atmosphere we Americans seem to pine over. Every Le Pain Quotidien is decorated with wooden chairs and tables made out of reclaimed wood and walls constructed out of recycled Gypsum. They even use energy-efficient lamps. Talk about a pretentious New Yorker’s dream.

To further emphasize its philosophy of being a “bakery and communal table,” you have the option of sitting at a large “communal table” with your fellow city-goers. Personally, I would prefer not to share my intimate moments with a lemon tart and coffee with strangers, but that is just me. Yes, Le Pain Quotidien, I get it. We are a community.

Now that we are on the subject of lemon tarts ($5.25), Le Pain Quotidien’s lemon tarts are amazing. Picture this: the perfect shortbread tart filled with a subtly sweet and tart lemon custard, all topped with a single, lonely raspberry. Personally, I think the lemon tarts are the best dessert option, but the other pastries it offers are just as good. If you do not have time to sit down for lunch, you can easily order pastries and their daily-made organic bread from the bakery section.

Okay, Reader, now I will talk about that salad. On the menu, look past the annoying-to-eat tartines and vegan quiches. Ignore the chickpea soup, flavorless quinoa and questionable babaganoush.

Get the Tuscan white bean and prosciutto salad ($13.25) with a side of organic bread. The salad is served with Tuscan white beans, tomatoes and croutons dressed in a lovely basil vinaigrette. The beans are paired with a side of lightly dressed arugula, slices of prosciutto and topped with pieces of freshly shaved parmesan cheese. The beauty of the salad lies in its effortlessness. The pairing classic and fresh delicately handled European ingredients creates a flavorful, light and satisfying salad.

If you are not into that salad, that is fine, I kind of forgive you. Nevertheless, Le Pain Quotidien survives on its great philosophy of serving the best organic ingredients while supporting sustainable farming. You can always pick up its  blends of tea, coffee, jams, chocolate spreads and pastries.

Le Pain Quotidien has locations scattered all throughout the city, so check it out. I dare you to find an excuse not to do so.