C, E at 23rd St.
Set on a quiet block in the shadow of the Episcopalian General Theological Seminary, this strictly French bakery may inspire you to deep, reflective thoughts—on the inner meaning of pastry. After all, the softly lit shop, with its lazily spinning ceiling fans and gleaming glass display cases, invites irreverent thought: Is it moral to skip lunch and head straight for dessert? The choices are dazzling: Tartlets glistening with glazed raspberries, blackberries, and slices of kiwi share shelf space with iced éclairs and creamy, towering napoleons; there are pillowy-looking meringues, heaps of flaky croissants, and individually molded mousses in flavors like trois chocolat and framboise. Lingering at one of the tables over sweets and café au lait is clearly the draw here, but there are quite a few lunch choices, from a mini-quiche with a buttery crust to a croque monsieur sizzling with melted cheese. Baguette sandwiches are filled with reverie-inducing ingredients like pheasant, smoked trout, and duck pâte.