L'ExpressI always thought this was some lame women’s store equivalent to 80s mall-staples, Structure or Chess King. Apparently the picture of coffee on the sign and the constant bustling crowds of tourists and local workers didn’t sway me from my myopic opinion. I thought all those folks milling behind the open storefront (during the summer) with drinks in hand were just sampling the generous store’s free refreshments. What the hell do I know? Having worked in this neighborhood for a couple years some years back, I had pretty much visited every restaurant on this block (current and deceased), but had for some reason never gone in L’express, despite its inviting exterior and straight-forward menu. Maybe I was too busy being distracted by the lobster at City Crab or the steaks at Angelo & Maxie’s to pay attention to some joint that was so obviously a middle-of-the-road French bistro, which are like a dime a dozen in this city. What I’ve forgotten, of course, is that I tend to love French bistros, and prize them, in most instances, over steakhouses and so-so seafood restaurants. A fact I only remembered after stumbling into this joint at 2:30AM with a largish group of other drunk folks–so big, in fact, that we didn’t all fit at one table. And, wouldn’t you know it, the place was absolutely packed in the middle of the night? We seriously had to wait for a table–at 2:30AM! Now, I’m not usually a big eater when I’m drinking heavily. It generally makes me feel absolutely disgusting, but the burger and fries sounded so good (I couldn’t quite bring myself to order the steak frites) that I couldn’t pass it up. The place itself was crowded and noisy and decorated like your typical French joint, with mirrors and French posters and comfortable, warm surroundings. We ordered some drinks, and settled in. And when our food came, none of us talked for about five minutes. Finally looking up from our plates, with burger blood dripping and fry grease congealing, I could tell that all the others at the table were just as happy as I was. The burger, even in my drunkenness, was awesome, and the fries even better. We waved to the rest of our crew across the restaurant, but they were either too bleary, or too ravenous to wave back. Either way, I’ve now found my go-to late night restaurant–if I happen to be in the strange confines of Park Ave South. Amazing that so often we end up at places like McDonald’s when the munchies set in, when there are great joints like this that can satiate even the harshest of drunk asshole critics. [MF]

249 Park Ave S.