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Frère Jacques

How long since you’ve dined in the Marquette Hotel, longtime anchor of the IDS? Not since Mary Tyler Moore left the building?

In a move to end that lapse, management recently converted the all-glass, prime people-watching corner on Marquette Avenue to Jacques’, a Voyageur-themed — no, wait! — an Italian restaurant. Scratch the wild rice, blueberries, walleye and whatnot for a list of standard, could-be-anywhere Italian staples. They’re listed in tiny gray type on a gray menu challenging for anyone old enough for cheaters. So is the noise level, because that’s the first question you readers always ask.

The window-bound room is downright beautiful — an elegantly spare setting of marble-topped tables, classy accent chairs and comfy sofas below “candle”-ring chandeliers. And that view!

Yet, oddly down-market touches emerge: clunky wine glasses more suited for a dive bar (and a short BTG list that won’t set hearts a-flutter) and brown-paper doggie bags that could pass for grocery sacks. Neither bread nor amuse-bouche offered, as might befit the menu’s price point. Hey, I’m just sayin’ …

That menu employs joke-y categories, such as Native Fare (which it isn’t) like minestrone and Caesar salad and Chart Your Course for shared starters (most $10–$24): bruschetta, a solo meatball, meat-and-cheese boards. They’re followed by artisanal pizzas (called Artisanal Pizzas), $12–$18, and Savory Comforts.

Those comforts translate to pasta in two portion sizes, $14–$19 and $19–$24, and they may very well comfort those not obsessed with authenticity.

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The spinach-ricotta gnocchi provided lots of medium-textured potato dumplings (give them a five on a 10-point scale of ideally ethereal to lethally lumpy), drastically over-laden with an over-sweet tomato basil sauce. The saffron tagliatelle showed more skill: very fresh-tasting, light and limpid noodles tossed with snippets of broccoli rabe and sauced with a pleasant basil pesto, bobbing with hunks of fennel sausage more appropriate either, one, in crumbles, to two, atop those pizzas.

We Expanded Our Horizons (that’s what entrees, $19–$30, are called) with orders of branzino and osso buco.

The fish fillets — thin by nature, dry by overcooking — proved tasty, sided with sliced fingerlings and an herb-fennel mix that paired well with the fish. Better: the enormous osso buco (thus, the doggie bag), full-flavored but salty and moderately tender, hunkered over first-rate yet scanty pools of polenta and a veggie mix in a rich onion gravy. Round out your plate with Prairie Home Companions, $7 each.

Dessert — none made in-house, according to our attentive server — pays tribute to local providers with Muddy Paws cheesecake and Sebastian Joe’s ice cream, along with a cookie plate and flourless chocolate torte, among others (all $8). No surprises here. Well, yes, one: the $6 price tag for a cappuccino. Have I been living in a cave? Or scrimping by at Starbucks?

 

Jacques’

No website or phone for the restaurant yet

710 S. Marquette Ave.

333-4545