Restaurant L’ExpressNovember 10, 2006
L’Express is traditional French bistro fare, in all aspects of the word. The food is French classics and classics revisited, of the simple, honest kind, the restaurant is open until all sorts of hours in the morning (they apparently serve food until 2 am) and the ambiance is professional yet laid back. This is a place equally adept at receiving parties for a quick afternoon coffee and sweets as with happy hour wine gorging at the bar than wonderful unpretentious dining.
As I entered the restaurant I was greeted with friendly smiles and promptly seated, despite my lack of reservation (this is a busy place but I was there at around 3pm, and the place was 1/3 filled, don’t drop in between 6 to 10pm from Thursday to Sunday because you might find yourself unable to have a table.) Looking at the menu, everything you would expect from a bistro menu, from Soupe de Poisson to Tartare and braised chicken. After a brief evaluation: Rillette L’Express and Agneau Parmentier.
Rillette is a method of cooking either pork, poultry or rabbit meat until the fat becomes clear and the meat easily shredded. The meat is then shredded, mixed with its own fat and served cold with toasted bread. In this case, was also presented with Dijon mustard and homemade pickles. The first few bites proved to be a bit disappointing as the meat was less than flavourful and the Dijon wasn’t helping. Furthermore, the pickles were incredibly tart from a lot more vinegar content than I would have liked. I then realized that most people would probably smear some butter on the bread before spreading the Rillette on top. The butter changed the whole dish in about half a second. The Rillette became smooth and flavourful, as I’d noticed from a lack of salt throughout that the butter solved very quickly. The pickles became a lot more interesting as the fat of the butter became a mediating element for the vinegar’s attack. Still, I would have liked a little less vinegar. The Rillette were pretty damn good though.
Agneau Parmentier, or Parmentier Lamb (the real name for this dish would have been Hashis Parmentier a l’Agneau, hashis is a bit pejorative so it is generally left out in Quebec), is more or less a fancy version of a Sheppard’s pie. Named after Antoine Augustin Parmentier, a French Pharmacist and Agronome that more or less convinced the French that the potato wasn’t just cow’s food. The concoction is more or less some roughly minced meat, usually beef, layered between two stages of mashed or minced potatoes. In this case, thinly cubed lamb was disposed between and on the sides of the potatoes and surrounded by raw spinach and topped with a veal demi-glaze and mushroom sauce. The whole thing was an exercise in perfectly balanced flavours: the tart taste of the spinach with the sweet and savory sauce combined with the salty and hearty lamb. Despite the fact that the lamb was most probably a collection of nasty bits leftover from the week, the lamb was filled with incredible taste and the potatoes were perfect in texture and taste. This was a whole lot better than the Rillette.
The service was devastatingly effective and up to two runners and one server was making sure I wasn’t missing anything. Add to that a generally affordable, yet very impressive wine list (note that I am no expert but I saw wines on there that were only marginally more expensive than at the store) and you have a pretty good restaurant on your hands. I am looking forward to going back there in the future as its honest. yet tasty, cuisine is up there with the best in the city yet is fairly affordable in terms of fine dining. For the appetizer, the main course and half a bottle of Bourgogne for under 60$Can including tax and tip.