Jack & Giulio's Italian Restaurant2391 San Diego Ave.Old Town 619-294-2074 www.jackandgiulios.com
I'd not heard of Jack & Giulio's until a few months ago, though it's been around for nearly half a century, run by the same father and son, first in Pacific Beach and now in Old Town. During a dinner-party chat about where to find good Italian food, the couple I was talking to almost fell out of their chairs with enthusiasm over the place. I was skeptical, mostly because it had been a long time since I'd gone to Old Town for anything more than a few margaritas.
Recently I was cat-sitting a few blocks away from Old Town and trying to think of a place nearby to take a friend. A plate of pasta sounded better than some lackluster Mexi-combo platter that has little in common with real Mexican food, so we headed to Jack & Giulio's.
Fronted by a large patio, the restaurant is located in a prime corner spot on Old Town's main drag. We debated catching the sunset outside, but heard the call of the naugahyde, so we sat inside at one of the cozy booths. The restaurant may seem a bit dated, with its classic Italian-American menu and an owner that sometimes croons a little Frank Sinatra, but one person's old-fashioned is another's vintage—and I'm into places that don't care a whit about trends, so long as the food tastes good.
We got to the restaurant during the early-bird hour, so we settled in with a cocktail. I sipped an appetite-whetting Negroni, a bracing Italian aperitif of gin, Campari and a little vermouth to smooth it out and my friend had a margarita—there's a rule that at least one margarita must be drunk when in Old Town proper. It was good, not skimpy on the tequila, and definitely made with fresh lime juice, which is surprisingly rare, even in margaritaville. We ordered a bottle of Chianti with our meal. I couldn't decide between the two pastas that looked the most appealing, so my friend ordered one as his appetizer so I could taste them both. The taglierin, or tagliarini, noodles are topped with a sauté of fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, onions and bacon. Each strand had soaked up the bacon-y essence of the sauce, making it perfectly chewy. An Italian lady who's been with the restaurant almost as long as it's existed comes in every day to hand-make a number of the pastas—one of the elements that sets Jack & Giulio's apart, and above, other joints.
I started with the shrimp bisque, a creamy coral-colored soup made with a shrimp-shell stock and topped of with a drizzle of sherry. It may replace Dobson's mussel bisque as my favorite seafood soup. I've never been into the soft, sweet, barely crusty bread that a lot of Italian restaurants serve, so I didn't much like the garlic bread, but we had more pasta coming so there were carbs o'plenty.
My main dish was their signature tortelloni, shaped like oversized tortellini, made out of a spinach dough and stuffed with spinach and cheese. They were good but incredibly rich in their porcini mushroom sauce, and I could barely finish half (which made for a great lunch the next day). My friend's shrimp scampi came with a good number of tender shrimp, split and topped with a light stuffing of breadcrumbs and oregano in a butter and wine sauce.
Though full, we discussed how many more bites we might manage when our waitress said that we should try the homemade ricotta cheesecake. By that point, we were too full to eat another bite and decided to finish the rest of the wine for dessert instead. But, next time, I'll be sure to save room for the cheesecake.