Nearly 40, the restaurant is both a cozy neighborhood place and a shrine to the customer-friendly style it helped inspire beyond the city.
MONTREAL — David McMillan, one of Montreal’s most influential chefs, estimates he has eaten at L’Express, the city’s premier French bistro, more than 500 times. His meal is almost always the same: pistachio-studded chicken liver pâté, followed by veal kidneys in mustard sauce.
“I still have this feeling of elation, like it’s Christmas, when I walk into that room,” he said. “Particularly when it’s a snowy Montreal night.”
A French bistro in the classic mold (zinc-topped bar, check-tile floor, standards-laden menu), the restaurant has been leaving an indelible imprint on customers for decades: In the coming year, L’Express will celebrate its 40th anniversary.
Like a handful of American restaurants of similar vintage — Zuni Cafe in San Francisco; Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Ala.; the Odeon in New York City — it enjoys the status of a monument in its hometown, although L’Express has the character of an even older place.
“At the beginning, we wanted people to think that L’Express had been there since 1950,” said Pierre Villeneuve, who opened the restaurant in December 1980 with Colette Brossoit.
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