Many moons ago when I was in college, my girlfriend (now Mrs. GutterGourmet) took me to the original Balducci's and turned me on to pain au chocolat, literally "chocolate bread." Croissants were already popular (my Mom's came frozen from the supermarket courtesy, Sara Lee), but chocolate croissants were a relative novelty in the early 80's. Now hopelessly addicted, I have made it my mission to scope out the best pain au chocolat in New York City. We currently have an embarrassment of riches.
This rapidly expanding chain (recently opened on Astor Place) makes a respectable classic-shaped chocolate-filled croissant.
This shop on Clinton on the Lower East Side makes a chocolate cornetto which contains a chocolate butter cream filling which, while delicious, almost has to be disqualified on two counts. One, it's Italian, and two for tasting more like a cupcake.
Of course, this SoHo staple turns out excellent versions.
Just up the block from Balthazar, this narrow little bakery puts out a fantastic rendition that is among the best in the city.
Francois Payard Bakery
Francois Payard's new bakery on Houston makes consistently perfect crescent shaped croissants but with a little less chocolate (though he makes up for it in his éclairs and macaroons).
Speaking of chocolate, Torres' factory on King Street, makes fluffy chocolate croissants for dipping in a wicked hot chocolate.
This classic French patisserie in Chelsea serves a very serviceable pain au chocolate.
Amy's Bread in Hell's Kitchen (Chelsea Market and Bleecker Street) make de rigueur versions.
Not to be out-Frenched, American-born Monsieur Keller bakes a fine pain au chocolat in the Time Warner Center.
New York City's Best Pain Au Chocolat
The above renditions are good, but the best pain au chocolat outside Paris (and perhaps even better than several I've had in Paris) belongs to Patisserie Claude on West 4th Street. Rosy cheeked, button nosed Claude has a belly that shakes like jelly when he laughs. He eschews the quarter moon crescent shaped chocolate croissant for the rectangular more bread-like pain au chocolat.
Still flaky with a thousand buttery layers, this is the Platonic version — just the right chocolate-to-bread ratio. Far from being Pere Noël, Claude used to be rather gruff. I was thrown out years ago for talking on my phone while on line. "No pain au chocolat for you!"
But today, in semi-retirement, Claude is a bit more jolly, shouting "Bonjour Monsieur" whenever he sees me with my nose pressed up against the glass peeking in to check whether a warm baking pan of pain au chocolat has just been taken out of the oven and slid into the pastry case to insure the chocolate inside is still in that ethereal state of being between solid and liquid. Joyeux Noël Claude!