DC Restaurant Exploration: Le Pain Quotidien

Though I haven’t featured a restaurant review on the ol’ blog for nearly a month, rest assured, dear readers, that I’ve engaged in some serious DC restaurant-perusing since recounting to you my enjoyable experience at Busboys and Poets. If you recall my list of veg-friendly DC eateries, perhaps the featured restaurant of this post, Le Pain Quotidien, won’t surprise you. Though not a part of my aforementioned list before I arrived in DC, Le Pain Quotidien became a desirable meal destination after I discovered its adorably rustic storefront while first exploring the neighborhood I’ve called home for nearly six weeks now.

Image courtesy of runinout.com

As a young Belgian chef who had worked at a number of highly esteemed restaurants, Alain Coumont fruitlessly sought the perfect bread to feature at his own establishment. Dissatisfied with the quality of bread available in Belgium, Alain decided to open a bakery rather than a restaurant as he had originally intended. The city of Brussels soon became ardent fans of Alain’s sourdough-style levain bread, inspiring the young chef to expand his bakery menu to include pastries, tartines, and simple salads. Today, Alain’s bakery-café has exploded with success, boasting over 185 locations in 17 countries, yet maintains its original integrity by offering simple, high-quality, organic, and wholesome food, as well as by supporting local charities in NYC and LA. Unfortunately, they also proudly sponsor an annual sheep-shearing festival in upstate NY, which I’m sure the sheep involved in the event would not appreciate. Perhaps if I had adequately researched the destinations of LPQ’s finances (as well as their ridiculously high prices, which I’ll cover later) before patronizing one of the DC locations, I would have chosen to enjoy dinner elsewhere.

Oblivious to these two downsides to LPQ, Katie, my fellow intern at Compassion Over Killing, and I ventured to the European-style eatery after a long, rewarding day of leafleting. After seating ourselves at a pleasantly unpolished wooden table and gushing over the fresh simplicity of the menu, impressively vegan-friendly for a European chain restaurant, Katie and I paged through Le Pain Quotidien Cookbook that lay upon one of the long communal tables on which LPQ prides itself.

Image courtesy of runinout.com

Our waitress delivered our dinner selections in a quite timely manner, which I will eternally appreciate considering the alarming volume of my stomach rumblings on this particular evening. Katie and I both began our meals with a salad of impeccably fresh mesclun, surprisingly flavorful tomatoes, crisp cucumber and radish slices, and a small wedge of juicy cantaloupe in an intensely herby vinaigrette.     le pain quotidienSoon after scarfing down our salads, Katie and I each received another colorful plate featuring our respective entrees. Katie opted for the six-vegetable vegan quiche—an almost mosaic-like layering of various vibrant veggies in a gluten-free buckwheat crust and topped with a grilled artichoke heart. While the savory tart packed a delightful punch of flavor, I can’t imagine that the miniscule slice on Katie’s plate adequately filled her hungry tummy. For $12.75, Katie should have received easily triple the amount of quiche than she actually did.

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For my entrée, I chose to partake in one of LPQ’s seasonal specials—a springtime platter of sweet pea hummus, beet tartare, peppery arugula dressed lightly with olive oil, fluffy quinoa, thinly shaved ribbons of carrot and zucchini, and French lentils, all served alongside two slices of LPQ’s famed levain bread. Every component of the dish tasted wonderfully fresh and burst with flavorful simplicity, while the moist sourdough bread provided the perfect vehicle on which to enjoy the spreads featured on the plate. I again, however, must complain about the amount of food I received in relation to the amount I paid for it. Relatively scant portions of each of the dish’s components cost me $13, whereas the infinitely more filling Tempeh Panini and side salad that I enjoyed at Busboys and Poets set me back only $9.

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Though already frustrated at LPQ’s arguably unfair prices, I awarded priority to my still unresolved hunger over my miserliness and ordered two desserts to split with Katie. Surprisingly, LPQ offers a couple of dairy-and-egg-free pastries alongside their more traditional European baked goods, including an apple cannelé, a hazelnut flute, and a cupcake-sized carrot cake. Katie and I opted to sample the carrot cake—a dense yet moist cylinder of not-overly-saccharine cake flecked with brightly orange shreds of carrots and plump raisins, lightly frosted and sprinkled with sunflower seeds.

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Only a scoop of ice cream could have improved the carrot cake, though the creaminess of our second dessert certainly provided adequate contrast to the dense cake. Though listed with the other breakfast items, the “crunola” parfait provided a quite delightful conclusion to our meal. A sweetly tart mash of magenta-hued raspberries layered atop a raw granola of buckwheat, almonds, and raisins begged for Katie and I to mix it into the thick blend of bananas and coconut milk swimming at the bottom of the parfait glass. I quite enjoyed that LPQ didn’t fully puree the bananas and coconut milk together, maintaining a couple lovely chunks of banana in the dessert.

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All in all, I happily savored LPQ’s fresh, light, and simple fare, but don’t plan on returning to the eatery in the near future due to its stingy portion sizes and astronomically high prices; indeed, I spent nearly $30 on a meal that just barely filled my growling belly. Lesson learned: don’t trust the Europeans (JUST KIDDING!).

Next up on my DC restaurant exploration list: Founding Farmers.

Until next time, Ali.

4 thoughts on “DC Restaurant Exploration: Le Pain Quotidien

  1. Eric says:

    Founding Farmers is pretty much a meatfest, unfortunately. Have never tried LPQ, but Busboys & Poets is awesome — my go-to during DC visits..

    • Ali Seiter says:

      Yep, that’s exactly what my experience of FF was. Stay tuned for a rather scathing review of them, actually! 🙂 And yes, B&P is FANTASTIC. I plan on returning often–already have once with my parents!

  2. Eric says:

    You might also try Teaism off of DuPont Circle (and elsewhere) — veggie bento box is decent. And some of the Ethiopian places have Interesting vegan dishes.

    • Ali Seiter says:

      Ooh, thanks for the suggestion, Eric! I’ve not heard of Teaism before but will definitely check it out. As for Ethiopian, I’ve already got my eye on a place called Ethopic that I’ve heard good things about.

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