Rustic and organic among Le Pain Quotidien cafe's themes
The first Le Pain Quotidien opened in Brussels in 1990. From there the Belgian bakery/cafe has spread slowly around the world. This year, Orange County got its first. It's in Newport Beach at Fashion Island at the top of the escalator next to Macy's.
I ate breakfast there, taking a table on the brick patio for a view of the shoppers, the palm trees and, if I squinted, the ocean in the distance. The breakfast menu is filled with healthy fare, like organic oatmeal with banana, pecans and maple syrup ($5.95) and house-made organic granola and yogurt parfait ($7.30). I went with the Quiche Lorraine ($10.95).
Le Pain makes several quiches daily. The Lorraine, with thin flecks of "Paris" ham and Swiss cheese, is packed with sautéed leeks. It was made on a flaky whole-wheat crust and was delicious. The five-veggie quiche comes on a gluten-free buckwheat crust.
If there is a theme to Le Pain Quotidien, it's rustic, from the food to the decor.
All the tables are reclaimed pine. A communal table, looking like it came from a farmhouse, takes the space in the center of the room. Wooden shelves hold jars of jams and spreads and chocolate sauces that Le Pain makes to sell. A chalkboard lists organic drinks, including a fresh-squeezed lemonade so tart you have to add your own sugar. All of the cold drinks come with a carafe so you can do your own refills, but it does cost you. A mint lemonade, for instance, is $3.35. Sodas are not on the menu, but the eatery does serve beer and wine.
The breads are baked daily with organic stone-ground flour; large flour-dusted discs and loaves are displayed like art in baskets behind a marble slab counter at the entrance. There you can buy breads, coffee drinks and sweets from behind a glass case. There's almost always a line.
I pretty much never leave Fashion Island now without stopping by to take something home; the last time it was a multigrain bread with raisins ($4.25 for half a loaf) that is perfect for toasting and buttering. I also love the mini versions of the tarts ($1.50), which take about two bites to finish. My favorites are the moist, buttery and nutty pistachio tart and the rich, chocolaty Belgian Brownie ($4.25). There are also patisserie standards: croissants, pain au chocolates, Danishes, glistening fruit tarts and, of course, Belgian waffles ($5.25).
If you are there to dine in, you can find your own seat and a server will take care of you. Le Pain Quotidien means "the daily bread." And a basket of various sorts arrives with dinner. All are made with a sourdough base for a heavier consistency.
As for the lunch and dinner menu, the words organic, vegan and whole wheat appear a lot. Imagine Mother's Market running a boulangerie. The tartines, which are Belgian-style open-face sandwiches, are served on the organic wheat bread.
I've tried the grilled chicken and smoked mozzarella ($10.50), dressed with arugula and basil pesto. It was good, but I prefer the ricotta tartine ($8.75), slathered with ricotta cheese that has been whipped with honey and topped with mission figs and chopped tomatoes. The Aged Gruyere with Cornichons and Mustard Trio ($8.25) is also nice.
The breakfast menu offers omelets, all made with organic eggs, that involve wild mushrooms or goat cheese or smoked salmon. One morning I ordered a glass of the vegan Riz Au Lait ($3.95), a brown rice pudding topped with berries, but didn't finish it. It was a little too wholesome; not creamy or sweet enough, the flavor a tad too nutty.
Another night for dinner I tried the mushroom lasagna ($14.25) with celery root, leeks and basil pesto. I loved the flavors, but the pasta sheets are whole wheat, which are a little too soft for my taste.
The one thing that doesn't work for me at Le Pain is the music. A satellite pipes in eclectic instrumental and soft jazz. I'm feeling indie folk.
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