Cafe Chronicles: Le Pain Quotidien

If you live in New York, you have no doubt witnessed the boom in the amount of Le Pain Quotidien locations in recent years.  It feels like recently they weren’t around, then suddenly they were everywhere.  Well, I’m not complaining.  This is another chain that I can get behind wholeheartedly.  Not just because I have a friend from Belgium and not just because they have an awesome Speculoos doop.  What I love the most about Le Pain is their ingredients and focus on quick healthy foods.

When walking into a Le Pain anywhere in the world, you will be met with the same decor.  Sort of a rustic-modern-french style with a long communal table at the centre of the restaurant.  In bigger locations, they sometimes have two communal tables.  The communal table is, no doubt, a central component to the Le Pain experience, making it a brilliant choice if you choose to dine there alone.  If you have a dining companion or two, there are also small tables where you can sit and have a bit more privacy.  Overall, the communal table helps to bring a lively and personal atmosphere to the impersonal formula of chain restaurant.

Le Pain straddles the line between being a restaurant and being a cafe.  Ultimately, it depends on the time of day you go what kind of experience you will have.  Most locations are open from breakfast until past dinner, so you can choose the type of experience you want.  For breakfast they have an assortment of pastries and some more traditional choices.  Although the breakfast choices are fine, the majority of them fail to truly shine because of the mass-produced feeling of the place.  The croissants are good, as well as the breads and other breakfast choices, but they do not exemplify the types of food that make Le Pain such a delight.

When the restaurant/cafe is at its best is during lunchtime.  There is an assortment of fresh salads, sandwiches and hot dishes to choose from.  Each option is unique and completely delicious.  The prices are more than you are going to find at somewhere like Pret, but when adding table service and the quality of the ingredients, those extra dollars are completely worth it.

My personal favorites are the Six-Vegetable quiche and the Quinoa and Arugula Salad.  They both highlight what makes Le Pain such an excellent choice, hight quality food with good portions and interesting flavors.  In addition, Le Pain offers a wide variety of Vegan and Organic choices.  I’m not a meat eater and definitely welcome the variety!  This is only true, however, for the American branches.  In England, the majority of the menu has meat so it’s worth checking online if you are going to a new Le Pain in a different country.

The coffee at Le Pain is good, though not exemplary.  I find the quality perfectly acceptable for getting a coffee with your meal, I usually order an Au Lait, but I’m not going to go out of my way to get coffee from Le Pain.  The only exception is the iced latte.  I’m a huge fan of soy iced lattes and adore getting them from Le Pain.  If I’m in the mood for only a coffee, however, I will usually just get it to go.

A unique, and completely amazing, feature of Le Pain is their variety of sweet spreads for their bread.  With a name like “the daily bread” you expect some good bread!  I’m not going to get a baguette from here to bring home, but thoroughly enjoy when I get a side of bread with my salad.  They have four different spreads to choose from: Noisette (their version of Nutella), Noir (Belgian dark chocolate), Brunette (Speculoos, or hazelnut praline) and Blondie (white chocolate).  I have, of course, tried them all.  My personal favorite is Brunette, it tastes extraordinarily similar to Belgian Speculoos!  Noisette is also good, imagine a more hazelnut-ty and less sweet version of Nutella with a similar consistency.  I don’t particularly like Noir of Blondie.  Noir simply tastes lack luster, if I want chocolate, I’ll just have some chocolate!  Blondie is too sweet for my personal tastes, it tastes like vanilla frosting.  Perfect for dessert, or if you have a super sweet tooth.

Le Pain can get supremely crowded during lunch hours, resulting in long lines and a crazy impatient wait staff.  There lies my major problem with Le Pain, despite the good food and lovely atmosphere, I rarely feel like I get good customer service.  Sometimes the food is slow, I’ve gotten undercooked food before and sometimes you just have to wait crazy long times!  Ultimately, I don’t believe the problem is huge, it will most definitely not keep me from going.  I do, however, keep that in mind if I am extraordinarily hungry or am having a day that is stressing me out.  Then, I’ll go somewhere else.  Most times I thoroughly enjoy the food and the experience.  So much so that I had to get a cup from there.  It keeps my Starbucks iced tea tumbler company. 🙂

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Atmosphere: 4 out of 5 coffee cups.  I love the decor, no matter how homogenous it is between locations.  Whenever I walk into a Le Pain restaurant, I feel delighted.  There is something about the French Modern Rustic look that makes me feel like I’m about to have a good meal.

Coffee: 2 out of 5 coffee cups.  The general brews are quite lack luster and the Au Lait can sometimes taste watery.  Their iced lattes and cappuccinos makes up for that however.  Get them with soy milk and you are in for a real treat!

Food: 4 out of 5 coffee cups.  One of my favorite parts about Le Pain.  The food is fresh, wholesome and delicious!  There is also an awesome variety that is sure to please your dining companions, even if they have extremely different dietary needs/concerns.  Vegan food?  Check.  Omnivore food?  Check.  Vegetarian food?  Of course.  I’ve never had anything I didn’t like.

Prices: 2 out of 5 coffee cups.  They’re expensive, yet you are getting good and quite healthy food.  It’s your decision if it’s worth it or not, but my vote is for yes.

Location: 5 out of 5 coffee cups.  I’m never far from a Le Pain when I’m in New York.  It makes me happy to know that I can find good food if I’m hungry.

☀✍☀

Interest in Le Pain Quotidien?  Here are some useful links!


Serious Eats


Yelp Reviews


Urban Spoon




Un Bacione,


Emilia

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