L’Express is a charming French bistro modeled after those fabulous Parisian bistros that Montrealers love. Opened in 1980, it is the original French bistro in Montreal, the inside is classic Parisian with its checkered floors, close seating, paper tablecloths for an easy set up and, of course, the sharply dressed bartenders and waiters, all with perfect French accents. Oh and by French… we don’t mean Quebecois, we mean proper Français.
Some things simply don’t phase Diva #2 anymore. Diva #1 has been wanting to return to L’Express ever since Diva #2 went for dinner with friends. Having had a great dinner, Diva #2 didn’t need much convincing. However, on this particular Thursday, the Divas had plans to try one of the restaurants participating in the 2nd edition of Montreal à Table. But alas, that was not to be. A couple hours before our reservation, Diva #1 called Diva #2 and explained that a craving had struck…for beef tartare. Diva #2 calmly told her to call the restaurant and see if they had space and, in turn, she would cancel the other one. After all, we always say never deny a craving! Diva #1 had been sure that Diva #2 was going to beat her for always changing her mind at the last minute but Diva #2 has learned to accept Diva #1’s spur-of-the-moment decisions.
It was certainly a night of anomalies as Diva #1 arrived at the restaurant first … and she was early to boot! This never happens. Diva #2 is lucky if she isn’t waiting 15 minutes for Diva #1 to show up…she must have been hungry! It threw Diva #2 for a loop and she quickly sped walked in heels, which is no small feat, to get to the restaurant as Diva #1 was texting her about what wine they should order. Not only did she arrive early, she grew impatient, and usually everyone is waiting for HER.
Sitting at a corner table, the restaurant was full and lively, exactly how you would expect a Parisian bistro. Our waiter greeted us and we asked his opinion to help choose a wine. A perfect way to start the night. The bread and butter were on the table but Diva #2 was slightly alarmed when she noticed the jar of gherkins was missing. But this was soon rectified when our waiter came back with our bottle. The Divas love their pickles! On many occasions Diva #1 had tasted the escargot de Bourgone, a special of the night that sometimes makes an appearance on L’ Express ‘ menu. Honestly this is the perfect comfort dish with the richest of sauces encompassing herbs, crispy bread crumbs and on top of the creamiest of potatoes.
As is almost always the case, we decided to share each dish. We looked over the menu and the specials of the night and chose to start our meal with oysters and the bone marrow. The Village Bay oysters were 6 to a serving. Served simply with a half of lemon, they were a touch salty, meaty and you could taste the freshness. Let’s be honest, oysters are a perfect way to start any meal, or end any meal, or in between your appetizers and mains as a palate cleanser.
The bone marrow was served in three large bones and topped with a bright green round of pickled cabbage and plenty of baguette crisps. The bones were full, salty and gelatinous. You really do need to enjoy the texture and consistency to truly appreciate this dish. Even the table next to us commented on how good they must be as they were getting up to leave. We were really surprised at the large portion because ordering bone marrow is risky business! It is usually a tiny appetizer but not at L’Express.
Diva 1’s craving was satisfied with the steak tartare. It was by far one of the best we’ve had and we eat plenty of raw meat. It was prepared very differently than what is considered the usual way. Instead of being cut up in cubes, it was shredded and had the consistency of ground meat. We asked to have it a bit spicy and it was perfectly seasoned. Studded with capers and served with addictive crispy fries with homemade mayo, this dish is reason enough to return to the restaurant. Perfect when enjoyed with a bottle of wine and good company. The steak tartare can come with fries or salad but our next dish had salad and the waiter joked that too much salad is never good!
We also ordered the duck confit with salad. After all, the French know a thing or two about preparing duck so this dish was sure to deliver and it did. The amount of duck was generous and it sat on top a salad of spinach, radish slices, croutons and green beans. It was very lightly dressed and yes, you could taste some of the duck fat on the healthy leaves of spinach and croutons! The duck itself was tender, deep brown in colour and very rich in flavour. We were expecting a whole duck leg on top of a salad but it was surprisingly already shredded and ready for us to eat.
As we enjoyed our bottle of wine, we poured over the dessert menu. After some deliberation, we chose the orange crème caramel and the apple pie. Diva #1 loves orange in desserts so the crème caramel was a perfect choice. It was cool, smooth and left a refreshing taste in the mouth. The candied orange peel topping truly made this dish remarkable. The orange flavour was strong and it definitely satisfied us.
The apple pie, however, completely won us over. Served with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream, the crust was perfect. It was not a traditional crust but more of a pâte à choux. It held together and was not soggy under the abundant amount of apples on top. The apples were a rich caramel colour and sweet. A perfect dessert.
There is very good reason why L’Express is one of Montreal’s go-to restaurants. It is a simple, straight forward approach to all aspects: food, décor, service and atmosphere. We had a wonderful night drinking, eating and plotting the capture of Mr. Wonderful… we even have a band of thieves helping us with that
But this wasn’t either of our first visits to L’Express…
We love stopping by for some wine, steak tartare and a Croque Monsieur. It’s funny how something as simple as a ham and grilled cheese sandwich, which originated in French cafés as a simple snack, can be such a luxurious treat. Dripping with melted gruyère cheese, there are few things as lovely as enjoying a Croque Monsieur at L’Express. What can we say, we’re romantics!
And just week before because she just couldn’t resist, Diva #2 arrived with The Firm and Ms. Nightengale, after an afternoon at the Chihuly exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The Firm chose the warm goat cheese salad. Rounds of sliced goat cheese topped dried crisps and served with mixed greens and endive leaves. The bread crisps themselves were a little bland but expected since they were just a vehicle for the tangy and smooth goat cheese. The Firm made sure to save a bite for Diva #2 and was surprised that the pairing of the tangy goat cheese with the lightly dressed salad was not too acidic. The appetizer was a surprising delight.
.Diva #2 opted for one of the specials of the night, the ragout of mushrooms and pied-de-mouton. It’s hard to go wrong with a plate full of mushrooms, accompanied by veal sauce and small bites of rich meat. The mushrooms were cooked perfectly, the greens on top were slightly wilted from the heat and the croutons added a little crunch. And Diva #2 was not shy about cleaning the sauce on her plate with the bread. She’s sure Diva #1 would love this dish.
Satisfied with our appetizers, we looked forward to the mains. Both the Firm and Ms. Nightengale ordered the shrimp risotto. The amount of shrimp in the dish was more than generous! According to the Firm, the rice melted in your mouth. Diva #2 stole a few bites from both her friends and the risotto was cooked perfectly. It was firm to the tooth and creamy and there was also diced zucchini throughout which was a nice touch. The shrimp were plump and full of flavour. An excellent Italian dish in a French bistro.
Diva #2 had her eye on the quail ever since she took a look at the menu earlier in the day. Diva #1 always says that she has an affinity for small birds. The roasted quail was served simply with wild rice, sweet green peas and a hard boiled quail egg. The quail was cut up into pieces and roasted perfectly; the skin was crisp and the meat tender. Diva #2 thought it looked cute but Ms. Nightengale felt bad for the poor little bird! The rice that accompanied it added an additional layer of flavour and the hard boiled egg was a nice addition. L’Express definitely perfected this dish.
We had to have something sweet to end our meal, and L’Express is known for making all of their desserts in house. And we must have chosen right because when our desserts arrived, the table behind us was intrigued and asked what we had ordered. The Firm ordered the Ile flottante. An impressive looking dessert to say the least, though it lacked taste. It was fun to break into with the back of a spoon but the taste of the meringue was too bland on its own. The hard caramel coating on top was extra crunchy and delicious, but in all, something was lacking.
Diva #2 loves anything with lemon so ordering the lemon tart was an easy choice. The buttery crust was flaky and the thick lemon curd filling had just the right amount of tartness. A perfect way to end a meal. And if you feel particularly Parisian, don’t just stop at dessert, end your meal with cheese too. Their choices change frequently, but we adore their Blue Cheese D’ Elizabeth for something very pungent, and the perfect cheese to enjoy with their apple pie. It comes with crisped baguette slices and walnuts which brings out the subtle nuttiness in the cheese.
L’Express became an instant success with Montrealers and has continued to be a fixture in the restaurant scene. You truly do feel like you’ve stepped off the streets of Montreal and inside a Parisian bistro where Chef Joel Chapouile turns out delicious dishes. The service is tops and the food great. The Divas will definitely be back soon to try some other dishes and bring friends who want the real Parisian bistro experience….without leaving Montreal.
Our Rating: Always on Thursdays
Tagged: 3927 Saint Denis, Apple Pie, bistro, Bone Marrow, Calf Liver, Cocktails, Crème Caramel, Croque Monsieur, Duck Confit, Escargot, foie gras, French, Goat Cheese Salad, H2W 2M1, Ile Flottante, Joel Chapouile, L'Express Bistro, L'Express Montreal, L'Express Plateau, L'Express St-Denis, Lemon Tart, L’Express, Montreal, Montreal Restaurant, Mushroom Ragout, Octopus, Parisian Bistro, Pastries, Pâté, Plateau, Reservations Needed, Rilettes, Rillettes, Roasted Quail, Shrimp Risotto, St-Denis, Steak Frites, Steak Tartare, Tartare, wine