Tel. 845-5333. Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday, 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. (Reservations required Thursday through Sunday, tables usually available without reservation after 2 pm and 10 pm.) $60 for two before wine, taxes and service.
Take Montreal and pour it into a pot. Slowly turn up the heat and start reducing. As the city bubbles away, we are down to the Latin Quarter, to rue Saint-Denis. Keep simmering until we have reduced Montreal to its essence, a dozen or so long blocks between Mount Royal and René-Lévesque. Now, in the final stage of demi-glace, the heart and soul of Montreal emerges. It is the restaurant L'Express.
Chairs from old Montreal taverns. Marble table tops with napery at dinner and only plain paper covering them at lunch. Warm tones, a funky zinc style bar, a narrow long room with too much noise, too many people, good cornichons and bread on the table and a superb wine list with bargains by the glass. And recently, breakfast (café-au-lait, croissants, omelets, etc.)
The staff knows their clientele and regulars do get preference; but outsiders get a good welcome too particularly when they have made reservations or don't mind sitting at the bargreat if you are alonewhen there are no tables available.
The kitchen knows its food. Unpretentious, great French bistro cooking. Steak and frites, fresh market vegetables (fiddleheads in a bacon, mushroom and cheese sauce in season), lobster morels and scallops, a rich duck foie gras, a simple green salad with roasted pine nuts. The daily specials are scattered at the sides of the menu. There is a separate desert menu with its own selection of wines and eaux-de-vie. Baba-au-rhum? don't mind if I do. Ile flottant encased in caramel, a rich dense chocolate pie.
I have never had a bad dish here. This is not to say that L'Express offers the best French cooking in the city. That is not a function of bistros. This is satisfying, extremely well prepared French food, moderately priced. L'Express promises a taste of how we, Montrealers, define ourselves. And it serves it up by the platter. Reviewed by Barry Lazar