Le Express Bistro and Bar
1820 New Hackensack Road
Wappingers Falls, NY 12590
Phone:Lunch & Dinner | Closed Monday
John Lekic’s Le Express Bistro in Wappingers is the most recent addition to our Hudson Valley “Top 10 Favorites” (See sidebar in Explore / Hudson Valley section). The restaurants on that list seem to have a few things in common. All are great eateries, as you would expect, with owners that are passionate about their craft and their product. Most are bistros, which is our favorite style of restaurant, offering simple rustic home cooking, usually ethnic, with a decent selection of the appropriate regional wines. Le Express offers all of the above, particularly the passion. Passion is important.
Any good restaurateur possesses the basic skills for the business. They must know their way around a kitchen, (or hire someone who does), and enjoy good food. They must enjoy people. They must be willing to work hours that most of us would think ludicrous, and do it on weekends, and on holidays. That’s just the basic requirements. Great restaurateurs, on the other hand, have that one extra little spark, that passion. Think of your favorite fabulous restaurant. I guarantee you that the owner is passionate – about food, about their craft, about their customers’ experience. That is why they have a great restaurant.
Le Express is one of the great ones. Lekic has that passion, not only about the restaurant business, but about the Hudson Valley in particular, and Hudson Valley farms and their produce, which is what you are going to find at Le Express – in abundance. If you stop in at the bar on a Sunday night for dinner, you will probably find John holding court there. By way of greeting he will tell you about the mushrooms that he just happens to have sitting on the bar like a still life sculpture, recently dropped off by a local farmer. He can sauté some up for an appetizer, or perhaps as a side dish with the salmon that he knows I am going to order.
He knows I am going to order the salmon because it has just arrived from Sitka, Alaska, which is a story in itself. Regular readers will recall that I am, shall we say, persnickety, when it comes to salmon, farm-raised salmon in particular. Chef Damon Baehrel at the Basement Bistro in Earlton has called me the salmon police. You can read why here, but in a nutshell, most – 99% – of farm-raised salmon is an environmental nightmare, and it is next to impossible to identify the 1% that is not.
Le Express does not serve farm-raised salmon, they only serve sustainably harvested wild Alaskan salmon. For the last month, while the king (Chinook) salmon were running, they have been featured on the menu. John buys the whole salmon, caught that same day, from a fisherman in Sitka who overnights it to him. Would you pay a few dollars more for that fish? I certainly would – any time that I see it on a menu, and I will stand up and cheer for any restaurant that does the same.
The rest of the menu reads like a Hudson Valley Who’s Who in Farming. The charcuterie platter will include today’s selection of cheese from Sprout Creek in Lagrange, or Coach Farms in Pine Plains. The quail eggs will be from Quatro’s in Pleasant Valley, the salad greens from Alex Reese’s Obercreek Farm in Wappingers. For some, “farm to table” is a marketing slogan. For Le Express’s John Lekic, it is his life’s mission – to promote the culinary bounty of the Hudson Valley. He is the valley’s farmers’ greatest cheerleader, and his megaphone is his restaurant. (And rumor has it, a food truck is on the way soon!)
The rest of the days’ offerings will usually include a house-made pasta, perhaps a seared grass-fed beef steak, or a roasted Murray’s chicken. I always look forward to a classic fall preparation of duck confit. More often than not I’ll just have the charcuterie platter, which is a much too large selection of cured meats, a house made chicken liver paté, tiny pots of compote or a fruit jam to go with the wedges of local cheeses, some grilled slices of a country boule from Bread Alone in Phonecia, and a small pile of my new personal favorite – roasted shishito peppers. Color me happy.
You can read more about Le Express and keep up on their current offerings on their Facebook Page here. Better yet, go enjoy a meal at the restaurant. If Alaskan salmon is on the menu, do give it a try, and thank them for making it available. A wild Atlantic salmon will thank you for it.
If you do stop in please let our other readers know about your visit in the comments section.