The one thing that you really miss after actually going to France—regardless of what city or region you visit—is the food. Oh, and the architecture. And the fit, beautiful people. Did we mention the tiny, unobtrusive, ego-less cars that don’t smog up the roads? Oh well, let’s go back to the food.
Though there are a few French cafés spotted around the IE—and a fancy nighttime restaurant or two—there aren’t many Frenchy spots that cater to all meals of the day in that good old European way. So we must give Claremont another star on its prestige-o-meter with their addition of the exceptionally divine Le Pain Quotidien restaurant and bakery nestled in the new wing of the Village. While Quotidien is an international, Belgium-based chain, there is nothing about the eatery that screams commercially mass-produced. That’s because everything is fresh, never pre-packaged or frozen, and they’ve shucked the all-you-can-eat greasy freedom fries cuisine of our land and opted for organic, normal-sized portion sizes. In doing so, founder Alain Coumont has hit upon a sorely needed and much desired trend in our apple-pie land: give us apple almond tarts instead!
Serving up tres magnifique asparagus and goat cheese omelets is only the beginning—breakfasts include an array of healthy dishes that actually make you forget they’re healthy. In fact, each time we go to Quotidien, we order two breakfasts each, just so we can have it all, which again, isn’t very French of us. The Irish oatmeal (how inclusive of them!) is thick and fantastic with brown sugar and berries on top—but ask for extra berries to make it right. For a chilled sidecar to your oatmeal or omelet, we recommend the granola parfait, which does come with plenty of berries and is filled with nuts. The Belgian sugar waffle is flaked with sweet crystals, and there’s no maple syrup in sight—try jam if you want more of a boost, but we don’t think you’ll need it. The main entrées, like the egg dishes, come with slices of fresh baked whole grain breads and baguette, as well as mesclun. Yeah, we didn’t know what that was either—even though we asked three times, we always forgot. It’s salad! Well, dark, leafy greens in a light, tangy dressing, actually, and it’s our new favorite breakfast side—move over bacon.
The lunch menu is even more eclectic, with “sandwiches” (called tartines) served on organic bread, open-faced. No hoagies here, mes amies, just delicate, natural breads. For these confections you may have, as we did, roast beef with caper mayonnaise, chicken curry salad with cranberry chutney, grilled chicken and smoked mozzarella with pesto, or proscuitto with sun-dried tomatoes and pesto. They have about ten more, but we started going into a food coma and had to push away from the table.
Every category of edible has its own unique array, in fact. Try the salads: seaweed (quite good!), shrimp and mango, and the hummus, babaganoush and tabouli platter. Not French, and who cares.
Drinks are all organic too—coffee or tea poured at your table from a mini carafe or pot, and of course the requisite sparkling waters and sodas.
The general atmosphere of high-ceilinged wooden-tabled brassiere also harkens back to its cultural roots—small, Spartan tables along the walls, and one large communal table for probably about 25 people down the middle. And while Americans have “personal space” issues, and don’t usually like to sit next to strangers, the appeal of Quotidien is such that the last time we went, and things were really hoppin’, you couldn’t even find room at the massive plank. It was all about the food and the company, you see, which is actually a tradition we share.
Le Pain Quotidien, 175 N. Indian Hill Rd., Claremont, (909) 625-1609; www.lepainquotidien.com. Open Sun.–Thurs., 7AM–9PM; Fri. & Sat., 7AM–10PM. Breakfast or lunch for two: $30–$50. AE, MC, V.