Editor's note: In "Fast Food International," Krista Garcia will take us around New York to the many international fast food chains that have landed in the five boroughs.
Country of origin: Belgium
Locations worldwide: Over 140 in 19 countries including India, Mexico, Russia, and the US
NYC locations: 26 in Manhattan
Le Pain Quotidien is like alternative universe Au Bon Pain (don't tell me you don't watch Fringe). Instead of racks of self-serve pastries, refrigerated salads and ready-made wraps offered amidst fluorescent lights and mustard-hued walls, you'll find crusty loaves of artisan bread, salads and sandwiches all prepared on the spot, blonde rustic wood--the central communal table is constructed from reclaimed timber--and goldenrod walls with a hand-painted brush stroke appearance. Yet, as the Belgian chain spreads to the streets of Mexico City and the malls of Dubai, it's no less calculated than an American franchise.
Albeit with better food. Open-faced sandwiches called tartines are one of their signatures. Smoked salmon, sprinkled with dill and sliced scallions atop slices of firm wheat bread and served with a small salad and avocado wedge ($13.95) is the type of healthy and satisfying daytime meal I'd eat more often if I could justify lunches priced in the double digits.
Therein lies the problem. If you're paying more than ten dollars for a meal, a plastic takeout container just doesn't seem right (and makes for a less than pretty photo). Le Pain Quotidien is best enjoyed on premises with table service and tartines appetizingly presented on white rectangular dishes with proper garnishing.
The Tuscan white bean salad ($12.75) is also a win. Legumes, big fresh French bread croutons, generous parmesan shavings, slices of prosciutto and pesto dressing just aren't ingredients you'd find a point-and-pick deli salad counter.
Golden pain au chocolat ($3.95, pictured at top) has a good balance of flaky inner layers to crackly exterior and just enough of a chocolate accent in the middle. The croissant probably wouldn't satisfy a true sweets craving the same way their giant chocolate chip cookie would, but with a cup of coffee it could make a better than decent French breakfast facsimile.
And the same could be said of Le Pain Quotidien, itself. The perfectly appointed space still might not fool anyone into thinking they've stepped into a Parisian boulangerie, but for a chain restaurant, Le Pain Quotidien's namesake daily bread is far more convincing than Au Bon Pain's good bread claim.
Le Pain Quotidien
various locations throughout Manhattan
About the author: Krista Garcia is a freelance writer and librarian (who does not work with books). Being obsessed with chain restaurants and Southeast Asian food, she would have no problem eating laska in Elmhurst and P.F. Chang's crab rangoon in New Jersey on the same day. She blogs at Goodies First.