By Chef/Instructor Ted Siegel
Recently my wife Cheryl and I had the good fortune to spend a few days in La Belle Province (Quebec) and visit one of our favorite culinary destinations: the beautiful city of Montreal.
We arrived, exhausted, late on a Sunday night at a time when most restaurants are closed. We knew that we could rely on one excellent spot to be open, so we made the fifteen minute walk from our hotel to dine at one of the most popular bistros in the city—Restaurant L’Express, open until 3 a.m. seven days a week. L’Express has a reputation for serving consistently solid, traditional French bistro fare. Though the menu does not change often, there are nightly off-the-menu specials. Upon placing your order, the server brings a canning jar of cornichons and a crock of Dijon mustard, both left on the table as condiments throughout the meal. We started with one of their famous dishes, octopus and lentil salad: thin slices of perfectly poached octopus dressed with lemon and olive oil arranged in a ring mold around an earthy lentil salad, deftly seasoned with a shallot vinaigrette. Once the mold is removed, the presentation is similar to a savory charlotte. We also ordered pork rillettes, which were impeccably prepared with the right ratio of shredded lean pork and fat, my only critique being that they would have been better served at room temperature rather than chilled.
Given my love for organ meats, I always order offal if it’s on a menu. Cheryl and I shared an order of crisp veal sweetbreads with chanterelle mushrooms, garden peas and pea tendrils under a cloud of Parmesan foam. Continuing in the “offal” mode, I had rosy slices of quickly seared and sautéed calf’s liver in a light tarragon pan sauce reduction. Cheryl had a creditable hanger steak with pommes frites. Perhaps we should have stopped after the entrees but decided to indulge in an order of ouefs al neige—a giant quenelle of French meringue gently poached in sweetened milk, the milk then bound with egg yolks, flavored with vanilla beans and turned into a silky crème anglaise, garnished with toasted almonds and threads of spun sugar. After a dinner like that, we needed that walk back to our hotel room.
Keep reading to follow along on Chef Ted’s delicious adventures in Montreal.