Dara writes:

Le Pain Quotidien, the Belgian bakery chain with international outposts and many branches in New York City, is never as good as it should be. It *is* a go-to place, as it offers light, fresh, tasty lunch and breakfast fare. Apparently its croissants are award winning. And yet, recent experiences there have made me wonder: is the ambience that of an artisanal restaurant or Ikea cafeteria?

PQ's prices and decor say artisanal. A nice blond wood comprises the chairs and tables, the menus are appealingly in French, and the international waiters--today I counted Russians, French, Africans, and West Indians among them--register a degree of aloofness often seen in haute establishments. And yet, the communal tables and slackness of service say cafeteria.

Then there's the food. It tastes quite good. I very much like the curry chicken on pain levain with cranberry chutney and little slices of cucumber. But why is this lovely meal kind of all spread out on a charcuterie board and more importantly, why did a very quick dish so easy to plop on a platter take 25 minutes to arrive a la table?

I think I might prefer PQ if it actually were a kind of upscale mess hall. I would prefer to speed up to a counter and order the chicken salad, and then quickly pace to my countertop for my feed. OR, I would like to sit in a smaller room at a more well-appointed table built just for me and my companion(s), and place my chicken order with an accommodating and patient staff member.

With lower prices and faster service, I wouldn't mind sitting with 32 strangers. But at these prices and with this service, I expect a slightly calmer, more intimate experience.