When Falai Panetteria opened on Clinton Street in 2006, it brought the then-novel concept of French pastries to the Lower East Side. Four years later, Pain d’Avignon opened in the Essex Street Market, giving the neighborhood a second source for croissants and loaves of meticulously crafted bread. Both bakeries sell a version of one of France’s great contributions to the breakfast universe, the chocolate-filled pastry. Falai does a chocolate croissant, while Pain d’Avignon makes a pain au chocolat, the croissant’s cuboid cousin. Both varieties use a leavened dough similar to puff pastry, and both have won over multitudes with their ingenious all-in-one packaging of large quantities of butter and chocolate.
Curious to know which would best satisfy a morning chocolate craving, we decided to wage a Battle of the Dishes, Lower East Side chocolate-filled French pastry edition.
First up was Pain d’Avignon’s pain du chocolat. The $2.50 pastry was light, flaky, and tasted of butter without being greasy. It enclosed a narrow tube of bittersweet chocolate, which ran through its length and protruded alluringly from both ends. It was neat, tidy, and restrained — a chocolate breakfast pastry for someone more interested in breakfast than dessert. While it was a little bit on the ascetic side, it was satisfying on its own terms, and beautifully crafted, so much so that we almost felt guilty tearing it apart. Almost.
Next came Falai’s $3 chocolate croissant. Like its competitor, the pastry was flaky and light, and yielded easily to greedy fingers. It was far more buttery than Pain d’Avignon’s, which made the pastry a bit softer and squishier, though not, surprisingly, very greasy. And where Pain d’Avignon used a bare minimum of chocolate, Falai applied it with an extremely liberal hand, so that ripping into the croissant is a bit like puncturing a pastry bag full of chocolate frosting. Which is not a bad thing — if there’s one thing most people could use more of in life, it’s high-quality chocolate. This particular chocolate is a bit sweeter than Pain d’Avignon’s, has the consistency of chocolate pudding, and is delightful in the way that making a mess with one’s hands is delightful: a bit gooey, a bit excessive, and guaranteed to make the rest of the world seem a little less relevant.
So which pastry is better? That depends on how much chocolate you want in your breakfast, or how much breakfast you want in your chocolate. If you’re more in the mood for chocolate for breakfast, or really want dessert, Falai is the obvious choice. But if you want something a little more refined and a little less excessive, then Pain d’Avignon is the way to go. Either way, you’ll start the day on a high note.
Essex Street Market
79 Clinton Street
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