436 Place Jacques-Cartier,
Montréal, QC H2Y 3B3
Telephone: (514) 876-884
Cost: $ 28.60
Chef Hats: 2.5
As the year draws to an end, most of us are keeping our fingers crossed that our fav restos will survive into next year. It’s looking bleak as the days progress and we are into our second lockdown. With no real end in sight to when the government will re-open our restaurants, foodies have become totally discouraged. So many restaurants are hanging by a thread and we’re are all very tired of the situation. The next couple of months will be crucial for their survival and maybe ours too. If there is something that I really miss it is being able to sit down with friends and enjoy a convivial meal. Now I can only look back in time and reminisce.
So, we are going back to the beginning of 2020, before the Covid nightmare began mid-March. As we do every year, we attended a few events for the Happening Gourmand festival that takes place every year at end of January -February in Old Montreal. The Happening Gourmand Festival which is hosted by the Antonopoulos group is a marketing gimmick to get people out to in winter to sample some of the fine food being served in their roster of restaurants. For diners, this is a great opportunity to pay good prices for a three-course meal and it gets us out of the house on a cold winter day.
This year, we decided to try one of their new restaurants called Jacopo which opened in May 2019. Jacopo is one of the 14th restaurants owned by the Antonopoulos Group that are scattered ubiquitously around Old Montreal. Jacopo is headed by Chef Giovanni Vella and Matthew Bell, from Bevo Pizzeria. Jacopo offers Roman Italian fare, in a newly renovated local that used to house Le Fripon since 1972. We saw the closure of Le Fripon in 2018. Gone from Jacques Quartier Square is a landmark restaurant that has existed for the last 46 years. Downtown and Old Montreal have been in a sort of transition in the last four years. With our new mayor we are seeing a slow changing of the guard, sometime not always for the better. With the elimination of many parking spaces and closure of streets, many businesses have gone under. St Denis is unrecognizable, so is Bishop, and downtown is a mess. Even Old Jacques Cartier Square is not safe any longer. For many Montreal Foodies, Le Fripon was never an optimal place to have good food. Classified as a French Brasserie, it served pub food mainly to tourists. But nevertheless, it was a good place to stop for a cold brew when you wanted to cool off on a hot summer day. You always found a spot on the terrasse to people watch. Over the years it saw a slow downward spiral that finally culminated in its demise.
The remedy and good news was the opening of Jacopo. For myself it was not till almost eight months later that I first noticed that a new restaurant had opened under this banner. Usually, I am on top of things, but have to admit I have been focusing hard on work. But we all need a break and some fun. So, we booked a table for brunch back in February 2020, figuring Sunday would be a good day to break and enjoy good food. It sounded like a good idea as Jacopo not only offers brunch, but lunch and dinner as well. It was perfect for us as it is for guests staying next door at William Gray Hotel who use it as a second option aside from Maggie Oakes.
Jacopo promises fine Roman food and the a la carte menu looks tempting. I have no qualms, except that Jacopo when we visited seemed to fall short on the brunch menu. It looked more like a lunch menu with its long list of pasta. This is to be expected as Romans usually do not tend to eat big breakfasts and rarely eggs. Usually “colazione” as breakfast is called and served in Italy is an espresso, biscotti or a brioche. Sometimes they may have cereal, fruit and toast. Big breakfasts are more of an American/Canadian thing and very popular here. So, we go with the flow.
We received a special menu for Happening Gourmand that listed a few items at $ 17.00. The price was very reasonable. It listed seven items for brunch with an option for a Bellini and Steak at an extra cost of $ 8.00. The regular menu has a selection of classic pasta options from Cacio e Pepe to Gnocchi, Orecchiette and Risotto. Also served are sandwiches, salad, antipasti, chicken and fish. We did not see the dinner menu but most of the items on this menu were more for lunch. For brunch, it falls short on anything authentic Roman, except for maybe the Benedictine Italiano. I was able to surmise, that Restaurant Jacopo seems to offer more in terms of authentic Roman food during the other services. Therefore, I cannot list our experience as optimal in terms of authentic.
We started out brunch with a Bellini for an extra $ 8.00, similar to a mimosa, it is made with peach instead of orange juice. Other guests had their usual coffee, tea or cappuccinos.
We received two pasticcini, which means small dessert in Italian. Basically, they were two doughnut holes topped with caramel and sugar. They are better served after the meal. In fact, one of our diners asked for a brioche instead and had the doughnuts after her meal.
For our mains, we got a combination of dishes starting with Benedictine Italiano, a mushroom Omelet served in a skillet, avocado toast with poached eggs, and Carbonara which consisted of three scrambled eggs with pecorino cheese. They came served with quartered potatoes and two pieces of a triangle panini cut in half. There was no fruit as garnish just sprinkles of parsley. Coffee and Cappuccino was at an additional cost and no refills. Service was extremely slow, unprofessional and everything we had was bland and a little disappointing even the Benedictine Italiano. Jacopo only saving grace, which remains to be seen this summer will be its ideal terrasse and maybe their dinner and lunch menu. I am not writing off Jacopo, as the brunch is not a fair assessment and the dinner menu seems to be much better. But I will not be returning for brunch. We were all very disappointed with the food and the service.
From prior experiences, sometimes restaurants have off days. So, it merits another return visit. It goes to say that many things make a dining experience exceptional. Jacopo is housed in an old historic building which has lots of history and is a beauty in terms of architecture. It still has a casual outdoor courtyard and terrasse overlooking the square. The indoor dining room offers different pockets of dining space, tastefully decorated, tidy and slightly eclectic mix of vintage and sharp, mid-century furnishings with a fireplace and brick stone walls that makes it super cozy. The rest of the menu look delicious and if masterfully done it will be delicious. Even though, its survival lies in the lurch, we do not want to wish it bad luck. Life is so unsure these days and everything is up in the air. Hopefully in summer 2021, we can all look forward to sitting on the terrasse at Jacopo to at least have a cool drink and some antipasti.
Till then a good Roman Recipe to tide you over. Potato Gnocchi – “Strangulaprievete”
The word gnocchi may be derived from the Italian word nocchio, meaning a knot in wood, or from nocca, meaning knuckle. It has been a traditional type of Italian pasta since Roman times. It was introduced by the Roman legions during the expansion of the empire into the countries of the European continent. In Roman times, gnocchi were made from a semolina porridge-like dough mixed with eggs, and are still found in similar forms today, particularly the oven-baked gnocchi alla romana. Potato gnocchi are particularly popular in Abruzzo, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto, and Lazio. Gnocchi are a variety of pasta consisting of various thick, small, and soft dough dumplings that maybe made from semolina, ordinary wheat, flour, egg, cheese, potato, breadcrumbs, cornmeal or similar ingredients, and possibly including flavorings of herbs, vegetables. The dough for gnocchi is most often rolled out before it is cut into small pieces about the size of a wine cork. The little dumplings are then pressed with a fork or a cheese grater to make ridges that can hold sauce. Alternatively, they are simply cut into little lumps. Gnocchi are usually eaten as a replacement for pasta in the first course, but they can also be served as a contorno (side dish) to some main courses.
Like many Italian dishes, gnocchi have considerable variation in recipes and names across different regions. For example, Lombard and Tuscan malfatti (literally poorly made) are made with ricotta, flour and spinach, as well as the addition of various other herbs if required. Tuscan gnudi distinctively contains less flour; but some varieties are flour-based, like the Campanian strangulaprievete, the Apulian cavatelli, the Sardinian malloreddus. Gnocchi are commonly cooked on their own in salted boiling water and then dressed with various sauces depending on the type of gnocchi and recipe used. Some gnocchi can be made from pieces of cooked polenta or semolina, which are spread out to dry, and then layered with cheese and butter and finished in the oven.
Gnocchi are eaten as a first course (primo piatto) as an alternative to soups (minestre) or pasta. Common accompaniments of gnocchi include melted butter with sage, pesto, as well as various sauces. They are generally homemade in Italian and Italian-immigrant households. They may also be bought fresh from specialty stores. In supermarkets, industrially produced, packaged gnocchi are widely available either refrigerated, dried, or frozen. Their preparation is similar to pasta, as they are cooked by boiling them in water and then they are served with a sauce. If miniature gnocchi are wanted for soup, they can be made by pressing gnocchi dough through a course sieve or a perforated spoon.
This recipe comes from my mother-in-law who was from Monte Cassino in Lazio. It was one of the first dishes I ate while during my visits. Strangulaprievete means Priest strangler in the regional dialect. I had many laughs with this one. She served them with basic marinara sauce and lots of home-made parmesan cheese and a sprig of fresh basil from her garden.
• 2 lb. russet potatoes (about 4 medium), scrubbed
• 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, more for kneading and rolling
• 1 tsp. kosher salt
• 1 large egg, lightly beaten
• Put the unpeeled potatoes in a large pot. Fill the pot with enough cold water to cover the potatoes by at least 2 inches and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, partially cover the pot, and simmer the potatoes until they are completely tender and easily pierced with a skewer, 30 to 35 minutes.
• Drain the potatoes, let them cool just enough that you can handle them, and then peel them. Cut them in half crosswise and pass them through a ricer into a large bowl. Let cool until almost at room temperature, at least 20 minutes.
• Lightly flour a work surface. In a small bowl, mix the flour with the salt. Add the egg to the potatoes and then add the flour mixture. Mix with your hands until the flour is moistened and the dough starts to clump together; the dough will still be a bit crumbly at this point. Gather the dough together and press it against the bottom of the bowl until you have a uniform mass. Transfer it to the floured surface and wash your hands
• Knead gently until the flour is fully incorporated and the dough is soft, smooth, and a little sticky, 30 seconds to 1 minute. (Don’t overmix it, or the gnocchi will be tough; the dough should feel very delicate.) Move the dough to one side, making sure the surface underneath it is well floured. Cover it with a clean kitchen towel.
• Cover two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment and sprinkle lightly with flour.
• Remove any lingering bits of dough from your work surface and lightly flour the surface. Tear off a piece of dough about the size of a large lemon and put the towel back on the rest of the dough so it doesn’t dry out.
• With the palms of both hands, roll the dough piece on the floured surface into a rope about 3/4 inch in diameter.
• With a sharp knife or a bench knife, cut the rope crosswise every 3/4 inch to make roughly 3/4-inch-square gnocchi. Arrange the gnocchi in a single layer on the parchment-covered baking sheets, making sure they don’t touch. Repeat until you run out of dough, flouring the work surface as needed. When all the gnocchi have been cut and spread out on the baking sheets, sprinkle them with a little more flour.
• If you’re going to use the gnocchi within 2 to 3 hours, they can sit out on the counter. For longer storage, see the make ahead tips below.
Make Ahead Tips
You can serve freshly made gnocchi right away or within a couple of hours, or you can freeze them for later use. Put the gnocchi in the freezer while they’re still on the baking sheets and freeze until they are hard to the touch, at least one hour. Transfer them to a large zip-top bag or several smaller bags and freeze for up to two months. Cook frozen gnocchi in boiling water in two batches. Frozen gnocchi cause the temperature of the cooking water to drop, so they’ll fall apart before the water returns to a boil if there are too many in the pot. Don’t refrigerate fresh gnocchi for more than two or three hours, as they tend to ooze water and become soggy.
Serve with your favorite marinara or meat sauce. You can also make them with pesto or sage butter