A LocalBozo.com Restaurant Review
249 Park Avenue South at 20th Street, Gramercy
Getting There: 6,N,R to 23rd Street
Restaurant Review: L'Express
It’s fair to say that when we visited Hell’s Kitchen‘s Marseille back in October, we were less than impressed. Whether it was an off-night or truly indicative of their performance, our initial experience was underwhelming to say the least. That background however is what made our first visit to its sister restaurant L’Express, all the more impressive. The Gramercy haunt is open 24 hours a day and while it certainly shares the similarity of a French inspired bistro with its far less accomplished sister, it pulls off the gimmick better than perhaps any of the brasserie-style imitators in New York City.
Sitting on a picturesque corner of Park Avenue in Gramercy, L’Express’ floor to ceiling windows let in plenty of natural daylight during its perpetually busy lunch hours and also allow a purview out onto the bustling street. Regardless of when you walk by the red and cream colored exterior, the place always seems energetic and buzzing and a part of you feels like you’re missing out by not being inside. No longer though. The restaurant opens up with a long L-shaped bar adjacent to the host stand. Meanwhile the tables are in close proximity to each other, much as you’d expect to find if you’re ducking into a small Parisian restaurant. Because the place is fully operational all day and all night, the hard working waitstaff is constantly moving around, weaving in and out of the narrowest of spaces delivering drink refills or bussing tables- but they largely do a fantastic job of turning tables over and providing better service than you’d probably anticipate.
Part of the issue that we took with Marseille was that the cuisine simply couldn’t match the place’s ambiance- despite being just a block from the horrific Times Square and Theater District foot traffic. Pleasantly, that’s not the case at L’Express, which seems to deliver fare that often exceeds expectations. The brunch menu runs the gamut from eggs and omelets to salads and sandwiches but we yearned for heartier lunch fare. It would have been difficult to avoid opening with the “Onion Soup Gratinee” ($7), a delectable take on a traditional French onion soup- especially in cold weather months. The hot, salty broth was delightfully sweet, thickened by a top layer of rich cheese that complimented the soggy bread hunks that were soaking underneath, yielding an unbelievable confluence of differing flavors.
Considering how infrequently we enjoy French food in our City, we make sure to order up snails anywhere we can. Here, the “Escargots Bourguignonne” ($9) proved to be delicious. Six thick hunks of snail meat were drowned in compartments of butter, oil, garlic and herbs and sided by a half loaf of sliced rustic bread for dipping. Each succulent piece was delicately chewy, saturated in drips of decadence. Avoiding the reputable “Le Burger” ($13) and the “Lamb Burger” ($16) doused in Moroccan spices, we ordered up the “Skirt Frites” ($17) to cap off an already indulgent afternoon The thinly sliced lean cut was carefully grilled to medium rare and ideally seasoned, with the salt marbled exterior blending brilliantly with the tender red meat. Complimenting the skirt steak was an array of crispy and tasty French fries and a small side of field greens, adorned with just the right amount of dressing.
Despite an initial bout of skepticism, L’Express ultimately delivered the kind of dining experience that we had hoped for- from its tremendous service, to its fun atmosphere, to its consistently delicious fare. The space is versatile to situate a variety of diners- be it an intimate dinner or a working lunch with a large group- and the menu is expansive enough to cater to any eating habits without pulverizing one’s wallet. It’s a place that we’re happy to endorse whether you walk on in at three in the afternoon or stumble to a table at three in the morning. Sa magnifique.
Rundown of the Meal
Onion Soup Gratinee (7)*
Escargots Bourguignonne ($9)
Skirt Frites ($17)*