Two European imports, Paul and Le Pain Quotidien, need to be considered together. Both arrived in Fairfax County about the same time. Both are bakeries that also serve a selection of traditional dishes — quiche, tarts, sandwiches, salads, soups and the like, and, of course, desserts — touting organic flours, freshness and nutritional value.
Both also open early and serve breakfast and stay open for late-evening snacks, except on Sundays. And both offer pleasant, though very different, surroundings to enjoy their fare.
Many travelers must be acquainted with both Paul and Le Pain Quotidien, both of which have spread beyond their origins. Le Pain Quotidien, which started in Belgium, now can be found as far afield as Australia, Japan and Kuwait, with a well-established U.S. foothold in Southern California. Paul, a familiar fixture in France, now has several locations in the Washington, D.C., area and in Florida.
The Paul at Tysons Galleria could best be described as “fast casual.” Stand in line, order at the counter — and they’ve made it even easier with online ordering — pick up your food, and eat in one of Paul’s dining rooms, or take your meal home.
This is traditional French fare and you can take your pick of the sandwiches — many of them open-face — temptingly displayed in the case, salads, quiches and croissant sandwiches. To help, salad choices are described on a billboard.
These include a salade Nicoise, a classic with tuna, tomato, olives and egg, and a salade Atlantique, with smoked salmon, tomato, cucumber and lemon. Both a mozzarella and tomato salad and a salade quinoa, with small dices of cucumber, tomato and olives, are billed as vegetarian (though you can have chicken with the quinoa salad, and be sure to toss well with the light vinaigrette — otherwise, no flavor).
The sandwiches speak for themselves, but if you have trouble deciding, try the Tuscan, a baguette stuffed with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, tomato, land lettuce with a pesto spread. And if you prefer a slice of quiche, try the salmon and spinach. It has a nice balance.
For dessert, the choices are seductive — everything from lemon tart to a chocolate éclair, but it is always hard to resist the delicate almond macaroons, especially the chocolate ganache and the pistachio.
Le Pain Quotidien is a rustic, sit-down-and-order eatery that also has a communal table if you feel sociable, and thoughtfully provides a book about the restaurant and its food to page through while you wait for your food.
Like Paul, Le Pain Quotidien (daily bread) is aimed at the health-conscious — organic breads, organic eggs, organic milk, even wines made from organic grapes, with enough vegetarian and gluten-free choices to satisfy those needs, as well.
Soups change daily, but if the choice is gazpacho, this is a well-seasoned tomato/cucumber soup that simply oozes good health and tastes of summer.
Sandwiches, or tartines, are open-face Belgium style with choices that include smoked Atlantic salmon, avocado, scallions and chopped dill; prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella; and roasted turkey and avocado, all on fresh baked bread. Gluten-free options are available and, for dieters, the menu also gives a calorie count.
Among the salads, an organic quinoa taboule with chickpeas, avocado, arugula, basil oil and vinaigrette, and a mix of aged Vermont goat cheese and arugula with pine nuts, tomato, and shaved Parmesan dressed with lemon and olive oil were more than satisfying. On the other hand, the salad Nicoise was nothing remarkable.
Here, too, because it is a bakery, desserts should not be overlooked. Among the most tempting are a mini mousse duo, almond apple tart and apricot crumble to eat there or take home — along with a loaf of bread.