Lunch for One: François Payard Bakery

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[Photo: Kathy YL Chan]

For lunch at the new François Payard Bakery on Houston Street, I'd recommend you eat light on the savory side and save plenty of room for François Payard's sweets. Pre-packaged salads and sandwiches are ordinary at best, but the soups ($4.50), served with fresh baguettes baked in-house, and the square slices of onion tarts and quiches are the highlights of the savory menu. Soups and quiches change frequently, and one chilly afternoon offered plenty of comfort in creamy warm bowls of cauliflower puree and a savory corner of ham-bacon-onion quiche warmed to order.

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I was immediately drawn to the pastry case, an exciting addition to the neighborhood. There are five types of roll cakes on offer, $4 a slice. The Hazelnut Roll's entire surface is brushed with cream and studded with crushed toasted nuts. The cake itself is nutty and dense, and those who are suckers for salty-sweet desserts will love this, as each bite is tinged with a kiss of salt.

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Perhaps even more intriguing was the Chocolate-Tofu Roll. It may look impossibly rich, though it's not so much decadent as it is soft and spongy. The tofu puree mixed into devil's food cake batter contributes a certain gentleness. But tofu doesn't shy away into the background here—its flavor plays predominately, even when paired with chocolate. It's brushed with soft chocolate cream, and covered with dark chocolate shards—what more could you ask for? Chocolate-Raspberry, Vanilla and delicately scented Orange Blossom cake rolls round out the set.

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There's more, of course: vanilla cream filling baked into tart shells, the Gateau de Voyage Le Lorraine, a French take on angel food cake, and wedges of pistachio and peach mousse in a crunchy graham cracker shell. The peach is airy, a cool whisper in the mouth with a thin layer of caramel over the surface, while the pistachio is much bolder.

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The only major disappointment was a Flan Tart ($4) which was stunning visually, but proved to be unpleasantly sticky and heavy. But there are still vanilla and chocolate eclairs, seasonal fruit tarts, and macarons.

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If you're here before noon, dig in to the section of baked goods located near the entrance. Croissants and buttery pain au chocolat are solid, but it's the Croissants aux Amandes ($3) I return for time after time. The croissant dough is generously filled with a buttery sweet almond cream, with a top surface covered in golden almond slivers. A dusting of powdered sugar is almost overkill, but I have no complaints. While you're at it, don't leave without the Flourless Chocolate Cookie—you'll be glad when that afternoon sugar craving rolls around. It's still one of my favorites from Payard.

Moral of the story? Save room for dessert.

François Payard Bakery

116 West Houston Street, New York NY 10012 (map) 212-995-0888