Update: It appears that Panier Rouge is now closed. October 30th, 2012.
You walk into this place at Yonge and St Clair through glass and steel doors into a high tech/high touch environment. Along the back where the counter is, an espresso machine and panini press can be seen to complement the wall of stainless steel coolers set into a white painted brick wall. All of these cool machines are sitting on top of glossy barn board like floors.
There has been some serious thought put into the design of this place. The concept is high quality takeaway in the style of Pret A Manger in Paris. Most of the food philosophy is lifted wholesale from Europe. Fast food doesn't have to be bad for you or taste poor. Oh, and if we have leftover food then we will give to charity because good food is too good to waste.
The menu is a mixture of different styles of sandwiches (prepared, toasties, and hot) with soups and salads. For the breakfast rush, illy coffee and pastries are available. The comparable places in the area in terms of what this place is trying to offer is Delica or TOGO. The price point is about the same with the same amount of care given to the menu. I have had at least one of each style of sandwich, a broad selection of the salads and have tasted at least two of the soups. Sandwiches and salads hang around the eight to nine dollar mark and I have found that the flavours have been more intense than Delica and comparable to TOGO. This means that if something is marked to have spice then it has at least a modicum.
One issue for some people is that the food looks cheap. In their defense, a North American audience is not used to fast food being quality. Panier Rouge is going to have to work hard to convert the public. With their prices, the public is expects the sneeze guarded point-and-pick method that is used in places of this caliber. The tin foiled hot sandwiches may look like 7-Eleven but they taste like an eight dollar sandwich. The boxed salads remind me of the cheap donut packages found in grocery stores while the sandwich triangles show off the whiteness of some of the bread. Just an FYI, milk bread and artisan bread often show white when sliced.
The toasties are wrapped in brown paper so that they can easily be toasted for the few seconds to revive any pre-made sandwiches. Sandwiches are brought out throughout the lunch hour. The few blue rinse ladies that I have seen enter the premises look confused and often leave without choosing anything. Maybe this is too forward for them.
All lunches that I have had from here have been at minimum, flavourful and thoughtful. I have not felt as if I was ripped off but I find the packaging fanciful and a bit fun. Eating good food from packages that reminded me of my late night university dashes to the convenience stores but a lot better. I did find a wilted leaf in one of the early salads that I bought and any small mistake with all the other "cheap" clues will put off many customers looking for a food pas to justify their perception. I will continue frequent this shop, as long as they keep putting out food that is better than it should be. My mother always told me not to judge a sandwich by its packaging.