Owner Andre Ramillon says he named his restaurant L'Express because he liked the idea of speed, and speed is what the place communicates. By day, busy studio and record company people take a meeting over breakfast or lunch. After dark, couples grab a bite during a night on the town.
The Universal City brasserie is no hash-and-dash diner, however. The napkins are cloth, the fixtures flashy, and the menu aims at the upscale. With a 12-foot-high, all-glass front wall, L'Express is for those who wish to see and be seen.
Doors in the chrome, mirror and brick lobby open at 7 a.m. and do not close until 1:30 a.m. the next day.
"In France, a brasserie is a kind of fast place where you can eat anytime and leave," said Ramillon. "In Los Angeles there are not too many places where you can get dinner at 1 a.m., but here you can. Also, if you want a dessert at 11 a.m., you can have it."
The native of France has two other, less hyper L'Express restaurants, one in Sherman Oaks and another in West Los Angeles. But it's the one on Cahuenga Boulevard West, across the Hollywood Freeway from Universal Studios, that is the most, well, expressive.
Like a vortex of chic, the restaurant has drawn into its interior every imaginable post-modern decoration. Strips of neon are in from Las Vegas to run along the ceiling. Exposed, black-painted air-conditioning conduit adds the French industrial flair. From New York comes abstract art that hangs on walls, which, in turn, are painted every possible shade of Melrose Avenue pastel. And from points unknown arrives a gaudy, pyramid-shaped back-bar to frame a big-screen TV.
Music plays constantly, sometimes classical, sometimes New Wave.
It's like eating inside a kaleidoscopic jukebox, too much a parody of hip to be anything but fun.
The food too favors eclectic trend worship. There is blackened chicken on the lunch special ($7.50), an appetizer of goat cheese or Brie with apple ($5), and souffles made with any of 12 liqueurs ($6). The extensive menu also offers hamburgers for the less adventurous and a dozen or more desserts.
"Everything is a la carte," Ramillon said. "That way you can just be free to get what you want, add a salad if you want, do anything."
L'Express offers a variety of juice concoctions, one of them combining banana, egg, lemon juice, yogurt, milk, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar ($3). And for the few upwardly mobile folk who slow down on weekends, there is a Saturday and Sunday champagne brunch ($10.50). One of the selections, gourmet pizza.
Although dress is casual, uniforms of sorts emerge at L'Express. Women wear skirts two to four inches above the knee, wide belts and jackets with outrageously padded shoulders. Straight hair definitely is out. Men carry squarish nylon shoulder bags, presumably stuffed with scripts, musical scores or megabuck contracts.
The restaurant occupies half the ground floor of The Centrum, a six-story office building. Valet parking is $1.50.
L'Express Restaurant, 3575 Cahuenga Boulevard West; (818) 763-551. Also at 14910 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks; (818) 990-8683; and 11620 Wilshire Boulevard, West Los Angeles; (213) 477-3463.