Best kwah-son in LA!
Le Pain du Jour
828 Pico Boulevard, Suite #2
Santa Monica, CA
Bike Access: mediocre (take 11th St; avoid Lincoln as much as possible; Pico is decent but hilly)
Bike Parking: parking meters out front or just leave bike by the entrance within sight – you are probably not staying that long
Attire: PJs or whatever you want
Yes, there, I said it. The best croissant in Los Angeles award goes to Le Pain du Jour. I know it’s a bold statement, but, coming from someone who has spent more than one month taste-testing all the croissants in Paris, my word is clearly the last word on this matter.
All kidding aside, I have definitely experienced more than my share of bad croissants (even in Paree!). Which is why I will walk for, like, half an hour just to behold the beauty of Le Pain du Jour’s specimen. What makes their croissant so amazing? It is pretty much textbook-perfect. Obviously, it has the requisite buttery richness of French pastries, but even I can bake something with that quality (by the way, don’t look the brown paper bag holding your little precious on your way home and, if you happen to get a glimpse of the greasy stain, don’t think about it too hard. Just eat the damn thing.). And it is definitely flaky, but again any baker worth her salt can achieve this. The expertise of Le Pain du Jour is evident in the texture; a croissant has got to be crispy on the outside with some bite and chewiness on the inside, and this one surely does. Eating this baby is a somewhat-messy, sit-down, plate-and-napkin-around-your-neck affair, as it should be. I like ripping off an edge, smearing some good preserves across the face, and washing down this bite with some La Mill coffee, which the bakery also carries.
My second favorite (oh, the pain is like trying to decide which of my children I love most) is the swirly raisin roll. It used to be my main squeeze, and the reasons for this very slight demotion are: 1) I discovered the croissant and 2) the bakery began employing golden raisins – which oddly give me a headache – in place of the usual purple ones. Still, don’t let my silly peculiarities stop you from trying this item. The pastry part is just awesome. I like to unravel the swirl from the outside, breaking off a bite-size morsel of the slightly tacky dough, and munch with a dopey grin. The roll is just a touch stiff and dry, although still rich – providing a nice counterpoint to the sugar and juiciness of the raisins.
My third favorite (yes, I spend a lot of my time ranking baked goods in my head) is the croissant with almond cream. We’ve already gone over the croissant part, so on to the latter half. The thing about the cream is that I usually loathe such things. For example, I will scrutinize the key in a box of See’s Candies so as to avoid the one with marzipan, if you catch my drift. The first time I had this variety of croissant, I was in essence forced to, as Le Pain du Jour had run out of the other things I usually get (which it is very prone to, so try to visit early in the day). I was genuinely surprised to discover that it was not just good but amazing. Fresh out of the oven, the almond cream was warm and oozed the way cheese does out of a proper calzone. Not cloyingly sweet, its draw was not so much the almond flavor but the luxurious and satisfying feel added to the croissant.
Other goods tried include: apple turnover, chocolate croissant, various fruit tarts, banana nut muffin, macaroons, quiche, and savory croissants. The bakery also produces loaves of fresh bread sliced on-site with a medieval torture device, as well as custom cakes and other seasonal items.
Note: the retail hours (7:30AM – 1:30PM) are a bit odd and things have a tendency to run out. The service is friendly, but the atmosphere is not the greatest, mostly owing to the wisp of sketchiness that hangs over this block of Pico. Credit cards are no longer accepted, but there is a discount for KCRW members.
Take-Home Message: Though I’ve taken the liberty of recommending my favorites above, you should just stop by the counter and go with your gut (pun intended..hahaha) or usual pastry preferences. The quality and technique are just so uniformly excellent; even if I happened to run across an item that’s not my particular taste, I couldn’t deny that Le Pain du Jour knows what it’s doing.