No. 32: L’Express
To say that l’Express does not change much year to year is an understatement. You could easily order lunch or dinner there today from a menu you nicked from the place as a souvenir back in its opening year of 1980.
Dine at the bar by night and you could even place that same order with the same barman who took it from you over that brushed stainless steel back in the ’80s, Claude Masson (Monsieur Claude, to his many regulars). Why the old formula still works so well is complicated. Part of it is that this classic bistro embodies the fantasy of Montreal being a pseudo-European city, where great food and wine and joie de vivre trump all other considerations. (Go to the website to make a reservation and you will see that the first image in the slideshow scrolling there is of a man by the bar lighting a cigarette.) Another factor is that the late Luc Laporte’s design for the place—classic brasserie with industrial finishes—was so inspired that even now, unchanged, it remains undated. Around it, St. Denis Street has fallen back on hard times. Legendary original chef Joël Chapoulie retired in 2012, after 32 years at the helm, and founding owner Colette Brossoit died in in 2014.
But l’Express soldiers on, buoyed by its loyal team of ultra-professional waiters who make regulars feel like family, and a menu of well-rendered bistro classics, now executed by one of Chapoulie’s early trainees, Jean-François Vachon.He has introduced a soupçon of change into the predominant flow of continuity. Like the venerable poulet de grain sauce moutarde, now sauced instead with sage and lemon. But the menu still largely revolves around its classics—like poached marrow bones with coarse grey salt, chicken liver mousse with pistachios, saumon au cerfeuil, steak tartare (bien relevé, of course) with frites, and rognons de veau sauce moutarde. The gâteaux opéra is as good as ever. The francophile wine list is replete with reasonably priced treasures. And yes: on weekdays the kitchen is still open from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. Bon appétit.
Photos Courtesy of L’express