1030 Laurier Street West, Outremont (Laurier Metro)
RESERVATIONS: (514) 279-7355. HOURS: Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to midnight; Saturday and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to midnight. CREDIT CARDS: All major.
In the eternal Montreal struggle to emulate the Mother Country yet strive to be uniquely Montréalais at the same timean unwinnable game, in my opinionthe bistro wars rage on, with L'Express straddling the summit of the heap and all other "would-be"s wrestling for position on the slopes.
One of these contenders is Chez Lévêque, a place with such an innocuous name that it should perhaps fade into the background noise of Chez's and Le/Las that come and go every year as a part of the Montreal food scene. It's off the radar of many a local restaurant guide book, but, as the waiter asserted, it's been around for thirty years (for a while in a previous incarnation, La Lucarne) and has a large and loyal clientele.
Located on Laurier St., the lesser-known but not necessarily poorer cousin of Rues St. Laurent and St. Denis, it's in the middle of the fashionable shopping/dining center of Outremont.
The interior is wood luxe with sandblasted glass partitions. The mood is relaxed, the music likely to be the whim of your server, be it Cuban Afro-Funk or Edith Piaf. There are hanging banners everywhere with hilarious French comic-strip style cartoon vignettes. This is a place that likes to have fun.
The servers are attentive, knowledgeable, and opinionated. No "Ah, perfect choice, M'sieu," here. Instead it's a cocked eybrow at the selection of a grilled filet mignon and a quiet nod of approval of the veal chop.
There's a list of appetizers such as "Stuffed Mussels Provençal style," ($6.50), "Pheasant Terrine with Port Wine Jelly" ($7.25) and a nod to fusion with the "Shrimp Tempura with soy and cocktail sauce." ($9.50.) My appetizer of snow-crab legs was garlicky and smokily moist.
The table d'hôte, here called "Table de Lévêque" ventures into fairly adventurous territory with Tilapia and Coriander Butter ($14.50) but tempers it with a basil Fusilli ($10.50). It includes a hot soup or a green salad.
The wine list is reasonably priced and includes mainly French selections but also the odd Spanish offering, and some are available by the half bottle. A Chateau de Nervers Brouilly Beaujolais was tart and metallic. The second bottle, a Saumur Champigny recommended by the server, was rated "fine" by the oenophile of our party.
A veal chop, suggested by the server over the filet mignon, arrived with a mushroom-cream sauce and an interesting bean sprout/grilled vegetable and linguini combination, but was a bit dry and chewy. A plate of frogs' legs and escargot was surprisingly bland.
Desserts are the typical Montreal-type crême brulées and mousses fondants.
Chez Lévêque is an excellent and very reasonably priced French dining experience, and, in the competition to out-French the French bistro (which L'Express wins hands-down), has unwittingly become the best in another competitionthe Bistro Montrealais.
Reviewed by Nick Robinson