Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bread that Worth Breaking

After walking around the Upper West side for 3 hours checking out apartments, I was starving at 7:15PM. I was walking along Amsterdam and high 80s and walked into the cafe I always wonder about, the airy and country farm looking Le Pain Quotidien on the sourth west corner of 84th.

I knew nothing about it except it seems inviting when I walk by it. They have bread and cakes in their glass counter, it seemed less busy than when I passed by during day time.

Can I order Salard from here? I am not sure it is just a bakery or a restaurant as well.

Yes, you can, but we are closing at 7:30pm. So it is more of a lunch and breakfast place. I should have walked out but I was too starving to move. So I sat down and the girl who greeted me behind the counter was warm and homey.

I quickly scanned the menu that she gave me, and looked at the salard section. It ranges from $9 to $18. It seems healthy, exotic and yummy. I felt like meat, but also want to avoid chicken, so I went for the Shrimp Avocado salad. I also asked for some bread on the side.

Another pretty blonde girl came up with the drink menu and she was not very happy, "we are close in five minutes I hope you know". I understand her tension, time to go home after a long day. "I know, I have ordered a salad" and I ordered a glass of Chardonnay from the list.

The salad comes quickly and it is fresh, tasty and light. The shrimp seems sushi quality and the wine is also lovely at only $6.5. Two pieces of bread were srerved up to me in a plate, one of them a particulary delicious.

I am a bread lover even knowing that it will bring too much carb to me but I grow up eating flour based food in northern China and it just is in me.

I am enjoying it but also is fully aware that I am but one of the two customers and people in the kitchen are cleaning up with loud noise.

Very quickly there are more excitement going on in the counter than just finishing up. The girls and kitchen staff are dividing up the remaining of Bread and cakes and croissants. I believe given the price level everything is freshly baked and sold only for the day here. I looked at those bread covertly. I wish I am being asked to take some, but none offered. I understand there is potential damage to offer customers free bread at end of day, there might be people taking full advantage of the good system. I am happy that they are not going wasted.
But there are not enough staff members to take all the bread, so a huge pile was thrown into a plastic bag on the ground in front of the counter. In seeing the action, I almost decided to ask for some to take home, but shyness stopps me. I just wish those bread will not go waste.

Especially when together with the bills there comes a colorful postcard that talks about the special bread baking process in the store. It uses human hands to put them in shape and use organic ingrendients and which are grinded on stones organically (I don't know exactly what it means), but all seems to point to the fact that these breads are special and takes a lof of effort to make, they are good, but they also comes at a good price, as proven by my bill.

After paying a total of $31 for my light but healthy meal, a feeling of light anger culminated in me in seeing the pile of bread that are ready to be thrown away--it surely seems.

I know this is happening all the time in restaurant business, throwing away the unsold food, I did not know where the Caviar or Sushi quality tuna which are meant for the high paying clientel only go when they stay unsold, they means a bigger fixed cost to the business. But bread, yes, they are easy to over stock and then be dispensed. Why I should be surprised? But isn't it also means it is easier to be given away at end of the day to the shelter, discreetly but heartily?

There is a recession going on out there. There are people who can not enjoy the "Organically" made bread, they are lucky to have food on the table. Maybe I also felt a bit guilty of my $30 quick dinner that will keep the feeling of fullness for about 3 hours at this time of recession, I felt truly motivated to speak up.

When I got up to leave, the blonde girl took out one of her I-Pod ear plug to say thank you and goodnight. I asked her: I hope you are not throwing away those bread.

She said: Do you want one? I said no, my pride stopped me to say yes after the bread is already in the ground bag. "I think you should give them to a food shelter instead of throwing them away". "We are trying to." is her response. I hope she means it.

There is little anger in me that says if you charge a premium price on your organically made food at least show some willingness to respect all the human labor that goes into it and the quality output, after all, there is too much sad news around these days in the world and a freshly baked bread that breaks with a crisp voice is so much solace to a our tiring ears, hearts and many empty stomach around the planet.

I have to admit there is also the side of me that is always a little annoyed by people who are usally well off their whole life and make eating organic food their life mission to fight with empitiness of life. I am judging but I admit that is my weakness.

I am not against this restaurant chain, some research reveals that they are an global cafe chain originated in Belguim, a 165million global franchise and with a warm review from their users. There are 11 of them in new york city, interesting I have never been to one before.

Can't they break the bread with the equally deserving but under privileged crowd without hurthing their bottom line? There must be a way to do it.

Yes, I want to write to New York times again.

And I will go back to try their coffee and variety of bread, since the food is good and I want to understand what makes people love them so much, and I will ask about the whereabouts of their leftovers.

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