A place where the 'pain' really satisfies

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A place where the 'pain' really satisfies

Jason Lee used to pack dozens of frozen bagels in his suitcase every time he returned to Korea from his classes at Harvard.

When he graduated and came home, he missed fresh bagels so much that he decided to open Seoul's first outlet of his favorite bakery-cum-cafe, Au Bon Pain.

While the chain has more than 250 branches in the United States, there are only three in Asia. Au Bon Pain bakes breads, croissants, muffins and pastries, and makes sandwiches and salads.

Seven bakers begin rolling out the dough before dawn at Mr. Lee's bakery to make sure the shelves are stocked for commuters.

Mr. Lee recommends plain bagels (1,500 won or $1.25) or blueberry bagels (2,500 won) with plain cream cheese (800 won). The crust of his toasted bagels has a lustrous gloss; the dough is dense and chewy. Customers can order a thick layer of plain, veggie or honey-walnut cream cheese. Crisp, firm and creamy -- just the way dressed bagels should be.

The smoked ham and brie sandwich is served on a ba-guette (9,500 won), although I'd recommend a requesting a buttery coissant. The combination, dressed with a pungent dijon mustard and crunchy lettuce, is a wholesome and hearty variation of its Parisian cousin.

The Chicken Caesar is a classic American wrapped sandwich. Diced chicken and vegetables are dressed with a sweet mustard sauce and tightly rolled in a warmed tortilla. At first whiff, the tortilla smells a bit raw, but its blandness is the perfect foil for the robust chicken and sauce.

Au Bon Pain's small and large garden salads (4,000 and 6,000 won) make for refreshing side dishes or main courses. The lettuce leaves are topped with cherry tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts and croutons. The salad is lightly dressed with an Italian dressing.

For a delightful low-calorie snack, Au Bon Pain serves small and large fruit salads (2,500 and 4,500 won) packed with chunks of melon, oranges and grapes.

The bakery also serves freshly squeezed orange juice (3,000 and 4,500 won) and espresso (2,500 and 3,000 won) brewed from top-quality brand Molinari-brand beans that are roasted in Italy.

For people who are chained to a desk, Au Bon Pain delivers orders that 50,000 won or more.

by Ines Cho
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