Le Pain Quotidien: A Little Bit of Belgium in New Canaan

Stephanie Webster

I never imaged that I’d be writing about a restaurant chain on this blog, but I would be remiss if I didn’t put into words my love for Le Pain Quotidien. When the New Canaan location opened their doors in the Spring of 2009, I was there the very first day, waiting patiently (or not so much) for my steel cut oatmeal, soft boiled eggs, divine apricot jam, and home made organic breads. I couldn’t wait for my latte, served in a bowl, not a cup, forcing you to pick up the warm beverage with both hands in an almost loving way. I could just barely see through the window to locate the jars of praline spread, agave nectar, and honey on the tables. A sigh of relief…it was all there…

My history with Le Pain Quotidien began long before I moved to CT when I used to frequent their various New York City locations. With 114 spots worldwide, one would think L Pain would lack character, but on the contrary, every restaurant feels like you have walked into an authentic European bakery (and not in a Disney way..it’s the real deal). Every location also remains faithful to their concept of fresh artisanal ingredients, organic sourcing, and the notion of a (optional) communal dining experience. As a result, these Belgian based eateries are dominated by their signature farmhouse communal table (made from reclaimed wood), which sits center stage, just waiting for you to pull up a chair. Other noteworthy delights are the surreally beautiful bakery display, the smell of fresh espresso beans, and the large chalkboards with the day’s specials. Chain or no chain, the casual surroundings are uniquely wonderful for a quick snack with the kids, a client meeting, or for an espresso and the morning paper.

So, I begin my Le Pain story with breakfast, as it is truly a treat here. If you are in the mood for something sweet, one of their buttery flaky Pain Au Chocolat (with a dark chocolate interior), Brioche, or muffins will satisfy your needs nicely. If you are looking for an excuse to dip into those amazing fruit laden home made jams and praline spread sitting mid table, ask for an order of their home made organic bread in Wheat, Rye, Spelt, or Walnut. A selection of their bread comes with all of their egg dishes, so you can enjoy the chewy crust and moist interior without ordering another side. However, despite their name, there is much more on the menu than bread.

I go there first and foremost for the Organic Steel Cut Oatmeal, which can be made with any type of milk you desire including soy. I have to admit, I'm an oatmeal fanatic, and there are precious few places in Fairfield County where you can get real whole Oat Groats, (or Steel Cut Oats), that have that little crunch as you chew. You may need to add a little sweetener to get it to your exact liking but it is worth the trip just for this item. For another wonderful sensory experience, the Organic Soft-Boiled Eggs reveal a perfect cook time, and provide a wonderful dipping opportunity for their beautiful bread. You can have a Toasted Paris Ham & Gruyere Croissant, although the ham is cut a tad thick for my liking, and the cheese not quite warm enough. The Low-fat Yogurt is unsweetened which I appreciate with my bowl of fruit or home made granola, although my kids are less enthusiastic about this lack of sugar. However, if you need to remedy this situation, the agave nectar is always close by.

And then there is the coffee....My husband is an obsessive purist when it comes to coffee. We have sampled every cup of coffee in Fairfield County, only to be disappointed. We have come up with two places that carry really fresh beans and know what to do with them. One of these is Le Pain. (The second is an upcoming entry.) We have purchased Le Pain Quotidien's beans for home grinding in our Escobar espresso machine, and feel that if you don't want to mail order from Portland, or source from New York, this is a great local option. If you choose to let the folks at Le Pain make your beverage for you..you will be equally happy. Who wouldn't love to drink their latte in a signature Le Pain bowl?

So, enough about breakfast. Lunch is also delicious at Le Pain. On my most recent visit a friend and I both ordered their Tartines (seen above), which are open faced sandwiches served on thinly sliced bread (seen above). The Curry Chicken Salad was very light with great curry flavor and came with side of harissa-cranberry chutney. The Rustic Tuna Salad was served with tomatoes, black olive tapenade & roasted red peppers, and had more of an olive oil dressing than your typical heavy mayonnaise. As I mentioned....very European. I am also a fan of their Atlantic Smoked Salmon with chopped dill, scallions & avocado. Unfortunately, because Le Pain is a chain, it is legally required to list the caloric content of its food. We steered clear of the cheese plate as it looked too daunting.

The salads are all wonderful as well. The Grilled Chicken Cobb with organic mesclun, avocado, bacon, Fourme d’Ambert, and lapsang souchong vinaigrette is delicately chopped, fresh, and has a great clean flavor. The Shrimp salad with organic mesclun, avocado, mango, and tomato salsa in vinaigrette is also very tasty, and you will always find produce that looks hand picked.

Dinner is only available in select locations, and we are lucky enough to be one of them. This reviewer hasn't make it past lunch but I'd be curious to hear from our readers on this. I did notice a wonderful looking seafood bouillabaisse in a gigantic cast iron pot on a dessert trip last week. More on that later.

Le Pain Quotidien

81 Elm Street, New Canaan. 203.920.4143

382 Greenwich Avenue, Greenwich. 203.404.7533

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