I’ve met several Europeans who have told me they are drawn to Boston because it is the city that feels most like home to them. For better or for worse, Boston’s cobblestone roads, abundance of rotaries (or “roundabouts” as they call them in Europe), walkability, and architecture make it one of the most European cities in the U.S. The British influence is clear, and Boston really holds true to its “New England” identify.
But what about those Europeans that aren’t British?
Drive up 5+ hours north to Montreal, and in many ways, you will feel like you have entered Paris in North America.
French is the official language in Quebec province (which includes Montreal and Quebec City). Rules dictate that commercial signs must be in French, and if another language is added, its font must be smaller. Children must go to French-language schools unless if the parents can show that they themselves had been raised in English-speaking schools.
The rules definitely make Montreal feel much more French than other parts of Canada.
For visitors like us, it means we get to experience many elements of France without actually flying across the Atlantic – such as, for example, the abundance of authentic French bistros and cafes.
L’Express is the perfect example of an old-school, authentic, Parisien-style bistro that has been around for 35+ years. The menu consists of French bistro classics, like rillettes, foie gras, croque Monsieur, and fish soup. The environment feels like an old French bistro – everything from the dark wood-paneled walls and the checkered floors to the waiters in black vests.
Each table comes with a huge jar of delicious cornichons (we took our liberties and ate quite a few!) and mustard.
Much of the menu stays constant (regular clientele would flip if they removed certain favorites), though there are always specials. To the dismay of Bryan (the only member of our party who studied German instead of French), the specials were only written in French. Thankfully, the waitstaff are quite fluent and they can always help you out.
The main menu is pretty standard, with Starters, Main Courses, and Desserts. The restaurant opens at 8AM, so there’s also a separate Breakfast menu.
In general, their classic appetizers are great. The Duck Foie Gras Terrine comes with mustard and has a pronounced but not overpowering liver flavor. It’s smooth and goes great with the pile of toast that comes with it.
For those of us sensitive to things that taste too much like liver (ahem, like yours truly), the Rillette L’Express is a better option. It’s still rich and creamy like a pate, but does not have the strong liver flavors you’d find in the foie gras terrine. It’s delicious, and I definitely ate more of that one.
One of our favorites was the Octopus and Lentil Salad ($17.90 CAD), which comes in a dramatic presentation that includes an octopus-leg covered cylinder filled with cooked lentils. The flavors are outstanding, with elements of seafood, aromatic broth, and olives. Definitely order this one!
The Fish Soup, or Soupe de Poissons($13.50 CAD) was also fantastic. A blended soup, it was full of rich, deep seafood-intense flavors. It also came with a phenomenal aioli made from egg yolks, saffron, bread, and garlic. It was fantastic.
The Sorrel Soup ($8.55 CAD) was also good, though a bit more unusual and less of a typical crowd-pleaser (unlike the fish soup!). It was herbaceous, slightly tart, and vegetal. It did not have the meaty umami that was so present in the fish soup. We all liked it, but the portion was large and I found that I had a hard time drinking such a large amount of the same, unique flavor. It’s good for sharing, but I personally wouldn’t order it if I had to drink the whole thing myself.
French Poached Salmon with Chervil ($25.75 CAD) was cooked perfectly, still rare in middle and super soft. The chervil, or French parsley, came in the form of mashed potatoes, which were super buttery and decadent. Some diners loved the richness of the potatoes while others thought it to be too much.
Bryan was intrigued by the Croque Monsieur, or more simply the “Grilled Cheese and Ham Sandwich” on the English menu. It was good, but not particularly special, so I wouldn’t order it if my goal were to taste the restaurant’s most exceptional dishes. It’s great if that’s what you feel like eating, though – it definitely hits the spot.
The Roasted Quail with Wild Rice ($23.75 CAD) was also very good. The quail was nicely roasted and it came with a sweet wild rice, endive, and peas. I personally thought the sauce was a bit on the sweet side, but I am a bit more sensitive to sweet than most other people.
Bryan ordered the Lobster Risotto, a special of the menu that the server high recommended. Why, oh why, did we order an Italian dish at a French bistro? We were disappointed. Not only was it one of the most expensive entrees, the rice texture was not great (on the mushy side), and the flavors were just ordinary. I’ve had many better lobster risottos in Boston.
Dessert was simple but fun. The French know their chocolate, and these Chocolate Truffles ($1.50 CAD each) were a nice, light way to finish the meal. Yes, we could have opted for some of the traditional French desserts, like Ile Flottante with Caramel ($8.95 CAD), a Chocolate Tart ($8.95 CAD) or the Orange Creme Caramel ($6.50 CAD). Instead,we were full, and we preferred to get one intense dose of chocolate that didn’t full up our stomachs even further.
All in all, L’Express is classic French and in general their food is excellent. Definitely get the octopus and lentil salad, the fish soup, and some sort of terrine/pate. Enjoy the cornichons and mustard. Most importantly, take in the environment around you and imagine, just for a moment, that you’re sitting in a bistro in Paris. It’s probably not too far off from the real thing.
3927 Rue Saint-Denis