Featured Bakery and Cafe: Le Pain Quotidien in Washington D.C.

I have no idea how you pronounce “Le Pain Quotidien” or what the phrase means in French, but after visiting the European style bakery/cafe chain I’ve come to the conclusion that it is, indeed, a “pain” in my wallet.

If only they didn’t serve such scrumptious little food.

Key word here is “little,” because this ain’t your typical ‘bombard you with super-sized portions’ restaurant. Part of an international chain which originated in Belgium, Le Pain Quotidien is the kind of upscale and chic bakery and cafe that likes to tout its commitment to stuff that is “organic” and “sustainable.” Basically, think Panera with a haughty European twist and French countryside design interior. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but believe it or not, there are times where I venture outside the walls of value menus and sugary kids cereals. My love of artificial goodness aside, I have quite the diverse palate, and can appreciate an expensive, artisan made cheese or baguette just as much as a squirt of Arby’s cheddar sauce or an Einstein Bros. bagel. It’s a good thing too, because one of the people I had lunch with at Le Pain Quotidien was Sophia from the blog, Burp and Slurp. One of the most respected and inspiring food bloggers online today, Sophia is also a young women who knows her cheese. I highly suggest reading her blog: not only for her acute and studious take on eats, but her passionate and artful story telling when it comes to just why food matters in our lives. Sophia is also a fan of McNuggets and anything deep fried, sweet and with a hole in the center (see: donut) certainly helps, although we wouldn’t be getting any of that stuff on this trip.

As for Le Pain Quotidien, there are some highs, but definitely some lows as well. The highs are the menu items, which are served in a picture-perfect manner that would get a 10/10 for presentation on Iron Chef. I ended up ordering the Ricotta Tartine ($8.95). Served on organic whole wheat bread with mission figs, black pepper and organic acacia honey. This open-faced, European-style sandwich looked too tempting to pass up. Having just had figs for the first time in my life at a recent Tapas bar (wrapped in bacon, may I add) I guess you could say I’ve been on something of a fig kick, and the tartine didn’t disappoint in the taste department.

The ricotta was amazingly smooth and creamy, yielding a sweet and slightly tangy taste that played well with the slight taste of black pepper and tomato. The honey was modestly applied as to not overwhelm the tartine slices, and gave the ricotta a further sweetness that was both earthy and light. I really enjoyed the fig component, which further enhanced the sweetness, and provided a nice bite to the creamy cheese beneath. The bread was somewhat lost in the background, but it provided a chewy and neutral base for the ingredients it held. The European style, hearth-baked crust was not as firm or crusty as I would have liked, but hey, it looked good!

For as well composed and balanced as this dish was, I have to admit that it was certainly a bit pricey and that it will leave a big eater underwhelmed. Heck, who am I kidding, it’ll leave your 8-year old kid underwhelmed. The fact that the “sides” you get with it include a small helping of radishes and cucumbers (along with a slice of melon and tomato) don’t help, especially when nearby restaurants offer artisan sandwiches WITH sides. Keep in mind the $8.95 tartine was the cheapest tartine on the menu. A drink will also set you back quite a bit, although I was assured that all beverages were “organic.” Unfortunately, there was no “organic” Coke Zero being offered, so I passed.

Our server was very good and enjoyable. He was attentive but not overbearing, and even played with the five year old daughter of one of our party members. For as great as he was, however, the service here was mixed. The kitchen seemed to be a mess, and one of our party members didn’t get her dish until 15-20 minutes after the rest of the party was served. And when her tartine was finally brought out, it was the wrong order! Fortunately she was not charged when the order was finally corrected, but the kitchen’s gaffe struck me as ridiculous. What was the matter, did they run out of “organic” flour?

Curried Chicken Salad Tartine (From Facebook Page)

Le Pain Quotidien serves up outstanding food. It is well composed, balance, and artisan in every quality — certainly better than a Panera Bread or Atlanta Bread Co. Yet the prices and pretension of the cafe, which offers an awkward “communal” sitting feel, aren’t for everyone. I enjoyed meeting Sophia and loved my Ricotta Tartine, but in the end I just cannot recommend this bakery/cafe for the casual diner. With so many options available to DC eaters, you and your party would be better served to check out other, non-chain options.

  • Recommendations: Ricotta and Fig Tartine ($8.95), Roast Beef with Caper Mayonnaise Tartine ($10.75)
  • Food: 9.00/10
  • Menu Variety: 8.00/10
  • Atmosphere: Bakery/Cafe/European
  • Price: $$$-Expensive=$14.01 or more
  • GrubGrade: 5.50/10 (Mediocre)
  • Dupont Circle
    2001 P St NW
    Washington, DC 20036
    www.painquotidien.com

    16 comments on “Featured Bakery and Cafe: Le Pain Quotidien in Washington D.C.

    1. Lia says:

      Just FYI, “Le Pain Quotidien” means, literally, “The Daily Bread.”

    2. SkippyMom says:

      The fig tartine looked good but you got me with the Roast beef tartine until I saw the price. I think not. Wow.

      I thought the portions looked fine too – but that is just me – I am not a big eater.

    3. Tom D says:

      Yeah portions look decent to me. The cheapest thing on the menu was 9bucks?

    4. Adam says:

      @Skippy and Tom,

      “Looks” and “are” are two seperate things, lol. Trust me, these were SMALL. The cheapest Tartine was 9 bucks. They have other, overpriced pastries and a small salad and/or soup or two that were cheaper, but overall the place is overpriced.

    5. sophia says:

      Hahahaha! that’s what I thought, too. A snotty version of Panera. That’s exactly how I described it to a friend.

      And aw, thanks for the kind words, Adam. It was awesome meeting you, too. If there is a next time, we’re going for a good $6 burger.

    6. J.B. says:

      “Luh Pan Qwo T De Yun”

    7. Tony jaguar says:

      Panera is garbage. I tend to really hate chains but La pain is quality product.

    8. Raiders757 says:

      When I got to the first food pic, all I could say to myself was WTF. I knew there was a reason I avoided anywhere that claims the food is “artisan made”. The term reminds of my hatred for that other hoidy toidy term “bistro”. Both translate to overpriced small portions made for snooty self centered rich twats.

      Way to take one for the team Adam. If I’m ever in the area, I will take your advise and avoid it like an open jar of mayo.

    9. Anthony says:

      Good site you got here. Long time lurker, first time poster. Anyway, there are a few of these up here in NYC that have opened up in the past few years. Considering I can’t eat like I used to, and you’re going to spend $8 for lunch here on a good day, you could do a LOT worse than Le Pain Quotidien.

      One thing I never understood, though: the hate against something perceived as “snobby” or “hoity-toity.” Maybe it’s me, but I find it just as elitist for someone to say they won’t eat somewhere “cuz it’s just too gosh-darn high falutin’ and organic” as someone who won’t eat somewhere else because it’s “too lowbrow.” Why can’t someone enjoy both?

    10. Adam says:

      Anthony,
      I do, and I think my reviews here reflect that philosophy! I often feel though that because I eat in such a way, some of the patrons of the higher end, “artisan” type of places are critical. I just don’t like the pretension of it all…like how people can villify McDonalds for being ‘unhealthy’ when it’s no worse than getting a ‘gourmet’ burger and fries at a gastro pub.

    11. Anthony says:

      (I apologize if this gets posted twice)

      Adam, well said. I think you’ve expressed that you’re open for anything through a bunch of foods and places you review. That, and the fact that you’re fun to read are reasons why GrubGrade is one of my daily stops on the net.

      Also agreed about the pretension: Often the attitude of people inside a restaurant can take away from an otherwise very tasty meal.

      I’m not sure if I agree with the burger-and-fries comparison, though. Given any locale, there are so many local places to eat that are cheap and fast, why go to a McDonald’s?

    12. ChrisLad says:

      Good review Adam. When a sandwich, chips, and drink starts getting into the 15 dollar range I feel like I could get something much better. Very good dinner places usually have more affordable lunch portions in that price range.

    13. Adam says:

      Anthony,

      The Micky D’s comparison was from a nutritional angle only. As someone who grew up eating Ted’s hamburgers and fries (a local buffalo chain which charbroils its food fresh and right in front of you) I more than appreciate the roadfood experience, as well as high end places that serve grourmet or artisan items (like I said in my post, I recently ate at a very expensive Tapas bar and loved it).

      But I find that people often blame fast food for the nutritional crisis in our country, when in reality it can be a great and in some cases nostalgic treat for anyone! I think our First Lady even acknowledged as much in a recent chat with AOL….So why blame fast food if, just as in the case of a fancy, upscale eatery, it can be enjoyed in moderation? Like I said, I find it a case of pretension.

      Thanks for the comments!

    14. Jessica Leigh says:

      The Ricotta Tartine looks amazing! I live in a small town, and we don’t even have a Panera. The nearest city has one and I eat there occasionally. I wish they would open this restaurant!

    15. Beryl says:

      Le Pain Q is high quality, i.e. taste, production, ingredients: heck, event their coffee is organic AND delicious (and cheaper than major “artisanal” chain). Took awhile to be served; I complained to a server (we had a very grumpy, hungry teenage boy with us); we received an emergency huge hunk of fresh delicious bread and butter and jams and spreads (no charge) before our order came out.

      I like the place…yes it’s expensive, but they are trying to accomplish something laudible. As well the setting is very pretty and comfortable. (NYC)

    16. Thea says:

      I love LPQ. I have found that even though the portions are “small” I can order one or two things and I am satisfied. I go to the locations in Philadelphia. I love my town, but it seems to be the epicenter of the Tapas craze. If I were to attend any of the buh-gillion tapas restaurants I would be lucky to get as much as the Ricotta Tartine for that price. I have paid $6 for a side dish of salt and olive oil almonds!! Comparing a place like Le Pain to McDonalds and the deli down the street is comparing apples to oranges. They are not out to achieve the same goal. I can recommend this place wholeheartedly. Just don’t expect a paper-crown for your kids or a plastic toy with your lunch and you will probably enjoy it too.

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