For an upscale dining experience, Thompson Italian — just off the corner of West Broad and Washington Street — offers a more sophisticated menu than those found at many nearby restaurants, but it is limited.
With fewer choices, guesswork is easier with refined selections ranging from tagliatelle (roasted mushroom ragu with black truffle, $16) to octopus and sides ($18) to malfaldine (rock shrimp, $24) Berkshire pork chop ($38) and more.
Katherine and Gabe Thompson are the owners and in an interview at the restaurant, Katherine explained the couple’s affinity for Italian cuisine: “We worked in Italian restaurants in New York City and fell in love with the food. We’ve visited Italy and we love the simplicity of the food, the quality and care of the ingredients. It’s what we crave and what we want to eat.”
She grinned sheepishly and added: “We also like to break the rules so that our foods are not traditional Italian” but “kind of American, with an Italian part.”
At Thompson, my friend Jordan and I split an appetizer which turned out to be the hit of the meal: burrata (an Italian cheese made with mozzarella and cream) with market cherries, arugula, pickled fennel (an herb), basil, mint, pistachio dukkah (a spice) with a taste so luscious it was like a dessert, but healthful and nutritious, too. (As for low-cal, maybe not so much. The arugula betrays the hidden calories in the cheese which stands alone and worth every bite!) Katherine said burrata is often a meal for her with bread and oil. Agreed! ($18).
I also ordered butter lettuce which was almost another meal with a big serving of cucumbers, olives, feta cheese, aleppo (a spice), lemon and spiced pecans ($17).
For an entree, Jordan chose stracciatella tortelloni with roasted cherry tomatoes, basil and parmesan ($23), with a truly distinctive Italian flair, looking and tasting the part.
It was so good that she ate it all up right then and there, remembering with a sigh her initial plans to take some home but now her plate lay empty. She looked forlornly at the few remaining scraps, scattered hither and yon.
Meanwhile, I was filling up with linguine ($22) and market squash, basil, lemon-ginger butter, chile flakes (I declined) and parmesan, a combination proving quite rich enough for me to take home and have another meal (with some add-ons).
Although olive oil cake ($13) and flourless chocolate cake ($13) are likely more popular, Jordan and I independently reached the split decision to share the pièce de résistance times deux: the “summer berry tiramisu” of berry mousse, sponge cake, vanilla cream, raspberry liqueur and amaretti crumbs ($14), crowned by the biggest berries I have seen all season. (Forget the other ingredients; berries are low-cal.) Scrumptious!
Lucy Dakwar is the chef de cuisine at Thompson who shops at the Falls Church Farmers Market, as well as other markets for her berries and other summer goods like tomatoes, corn, melons and whatever’s available, she said during a break in tasks when Katherine called her over to our table to chat.
Dakwar has spent her entire 10-year culinary career with the Thompsons and Katherine credited Dakwar with most of the menu development. It was news to me that anyone would follow a restaurateur from New York City down South, but that’s exactly what Dakwar and some other members of Thompson have done.
“Falls Church has been great,” Katherine said, and repeated herself. “We’ve been so fortunate that the neighborhood has embraced us” and she knocked on the wooden table: “We’ve been really busy.”
I can attest to “busyness” since I neglected to make a reservation for a recent Tuesday night and was shocked by the full house at 6:30 p.m., usually a less-popular night but the best for dining out, say Internet “experts” since food is usually the freshest and it’s less crowded. (Forget Sundays and Mondays.)
The night we were there, the smiling and gracious maitre d’ apologized for the lack of seating but within minutes was able to offer us a table after a couple with reservations decided to sit at the bar.
“We have a group of people who love dining at the bar,” Katherine said. “It’s a casual night for them. We have people who come in every week for a glass of wine and a meal.”
In New York City where the Thompsons met, married, and had two children, they spent several years opening and running restaurants. After the birth of their second child, now age 8, they considered moving (“Manhattan has its challenges”). Their move pointed them south, toward Katherine’s former home in Northern Virginia.
No stranger to Falls Church, Katherine spent a lot of time here, growing up around her mother’s art studio near West and Broad.
For restaurant space, they looked at Arlington and dismissed the District of Columbia because of traffic, distance and stiffer competition. Northern Virginia residents “don’t necessarily want to truck into DC for a nice meal,” Katherine said.
And then there was a vacant storefront, the former home of another Italian restaurant, Argia’s — sandwiched between the new Whole Foods construction and Clare & Don’s Beach Shack. “It just felt like home,” Katherine said. “I know the area so well.”
They opened in August of 2019, “just enough time before Covid-19 hit to get our feet on the ground” and then closed for two weeks the next March just like everybody else.
As we know, for good or bad, life changes and learning opportunities have come with Covid. For the Thompsons, it was takeout.
“We’d never done that before and we had a ton of fun with it,” selling holiday boxes and virtual wine-tasting dinners, among other foods. Sweeping her arm around the restaurant to show the space, Katherine said the main dining room became a staging area. Takeout continues to this day.
A converted horse trailer food truck is on its way from Arizona to soon replace the used tent on Park Place the Thompsons use for their location station for takeout and pickup. Construction next door has reduced foot traffic at the restaurant and the Thompsons may bring back brunch, which is currently on “pause.”
The couple hopes to open another restaurant at the former location of Hank’s Oyster Bar on King Street in Alexandria near the end of this year. The menus will be more or less the same, but, please, save me some burrata!
On August 10, Thompson will host a $125 wine-tasting dinner of five courses (five different wines), led by Maurizio Farro, Italian wine expert, and Erminia D’Angelo, Italian wine-grower recently on the cover of Wine Enthusiast, whose winery, D’Angelo in Basilicata, will supply all the wines for the dinner.
In Falls Church, parking is free after 5 p.m. weekdays and all weekend on the top two floors at the Kaiser Permanente garage on Park Avenue, across the street from Thompson.
Thompson Italian is located at 124 N. Washington St., Falls Church. For more information, call 703-269-0893 or email [email protected] Thompson Italian is open Monday — Friday, 5 — 9:30 p.m. and Saturday — Sunday, 4:30 — 9:30 p.m.
Take it from me, reservations are highly recommended for dining room and patio tables, but drop-ins at the bar and at some patio tables are sometimes okay. Buon appetito!