Le Pain Quotidien

Written by on May 17, 2011 in I Eat America, I Eat...Out with 0 Comments

(lepainquotidien.com) – Clarendon neighborhood, Arlington, Virginia

How I heard of this place: I know I just wrote about Le Pain quotidien a few days ago, but it was time to visit the Clarendon cafe, already, and the space warranted a new post. My friend and current house-mate, Andra, initially recommended Le Pain Quotidien. The Clarendon location was noteworthy and caught my attention on a 12-mile walk through Northern Virginia and Washington, DC due to that same recommendation. I recommended it to Ciara, as a spot to check out on our first dinner together.

Type of cuisine: Fresh, organic and artfully presented light meals, whether it be breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner or snacks and pastries. A collection of truly artisan breads, pastries, salads, soups and accoutrements, all fresh and homemade. Meals, often presented on flat, white, ceramic cutting-board shaped plates are well-portioned, well-balanced and offer a light, flavorful meal to savor and enjoy.

Ambiance: Less rustic than the Georgetown space, the Clarendon cafe is wide open, bright and spacious. Entering the establishment, one is welcomed by the open arms of the inticing pastry display case and friendly staff. Loaves of fresh-baked bread line the back wall in dark, wooden shelf-units. As patrons continue around the large cabinet of reclaimed wood, full of packaged items for sale, they are introduced to noticable high ceilings, tan-yellowed walls with deliberate paint patching, and thick, untreated wooden tables and chairs. The communal table, the benchmark of each Le Pain Quotidien, is at the center, enclosing a heavy, square-shaped, floor-to-ceiling pillar. The memorable, large chalkboard with the handwritten menu of specials du jour is hanging high up along the far wall, just before entering the small hallway towards the facilities on the right, and a staircase leading outside on the left. Large windows surrounding the establishment and seating area, offer natural daylight to enter and brighten up the space. But as the sun sets, so does the interior lighting, dimming, candles making their way onto each table, to join the salt and pepper containers. Gentle classical music could be heard throughout the establishment creating a peaceful and solemn space.

What I ordered: On this visit, I had some time to sit and study the menu before my dining companion was able to join me. I was hungry, so I knew I wanted to try a tartines from their great selection of mouth-watering options! I narrowed down my choices, based on my mood and our friendly server helped me to decide. She did not hesitate even a moment when I mentioned the Grilled Chicken and Smoked Mozzarella ($10.95) with arugula and basil pesto, decprated with delicately sliced cucumber and radish, served on a dense, homemade, wheat bread. While the Grilled Chicken Cobb Salad came highly recommended by our server, my dining companion selected the red Quinoa & Arugula Salad ($10.50) with chickpeas, artichoke and a drizzle of basil pesto. Upon placing our orders, we were offered a bowl of rustic breads and a carafe of olive oil and a separate one of balsamic vinegar to enjoy as we awaited our entrees. For dessert, we could not pass it up, with all of the options and not having been able to taste them on my last visit, and of the remaining selections available in the dessert case, I selected the Raspberry Tart ($6.35) to share. The personal tart, bright red and looking juicy, came in a buttery, flaky pie crust with rounded, flowered edges, a vanilla pudding in the center, covered with what resembled a sweet raspberry jam, and topped with a round of fresh raspberries, adding juice and light tartness to each bite. At the last moment, my dining companion chose to forego dessert – but was easily convinced to take a bite of mine – and ordered a pot of fresh Mint Tea ($3.40). The white, ceramic teapot held a sprig of mint in its spout, and the accompanying drinking vessel: a small, white, ceramic bowl.

What I loved: The quinoa with basil pesto, even though I had a teaspoon-full only, was full of flavor and punch. My tartine an amazing combination of grilled chicken with the smokiness of a thin slice of smoked mozzarella and fresh, diced tomatoes. The sweetness of the basil pesto and the light sundried tomato aioli atop the whole wheat bread added a beautiful marriage of flavors, giving new notes of taste with each bite. I loved that the mint tea was real, fresh mint steeped in hot water. And the raspberry tart perfectly sweet, lightly tart and enjoyable to the last bite! Tempting to the point of licking the plate it was served on, clean.

Why I loved it: I love the relaxed, simple atmosphere, the fresh ingredients in each menu option, beautifully presented pastries, meals and snacks, all organic (when available) and fresh! So far, Le Pain Quotidien is my favorite food establishment in the greater DC area.

Cost: Low to average ($9-$15 per dinner entree, salad or tartine)

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