About Thompson Italian
Ten years ago, I had one of the best desserts of my life at an Italian restaurant called L’Artusi in Manhattan. It was an olive-oil cake—decadent but light, with sparkles of salt and boozy raisins, a tuft of whipped crème fraîche, and not a trace of bitterness.
The cake was the work of Katherine Thompson—who is one half of the married couple behind four-month-old Thompson Italian. Gabe Thompson, her husband, handles the pastas, carpaccios, salads, and other savory plates. The pair moved back to Katherine’s native Arlington once they had toddlers, and they took over the Falls Church space that had long held Argia’s. “We liked the idea that it had been there for 19 years,” Gabe says.
It’s a bit of an awkward dining room—the real entrance is around back, not by the pink neon pasta power sign that glows out front. But inside, it’s savvily designed, with peacock-blue walls and oversize paintings of lemons and Moka pots. (Credit for those—and that neon sign—goes to Katherine’s dad, a former art teacher.) A caveat: The place has been very crowded, even at 5 pm, and tends to be jarringly loud.
Gabe’s side of the menu starts off strong. There’s a terrific burrata drizzled with balsamic and sided with whole grilled peppers and Marcona almonds—sort of a deconstructed romesco sauce. A beef carpaccio arrives dotted with rye crisps (a L’Artusi holdover—he worked there, too). Thin lemons, pickled cherry peppers, whole basil leaves, and calamari are among the tempura-battered treats on his fritto misto. Another thing that sets it apart: a diavolo sauce that lives up to its fiery name.
A fennel-and-apple salad is all brightness and texture. “ ‘Crunch factor’ is a word we use all the time,” Katherine says. Thus, many of the house-made pastas—including the buttery, garlicky bucatini and the kicky shrimp gemelli—come with a heavy shower of bread crumbs. Mostly, the pastas have the right chew and texture—but I wish the ink-black linguine with clams weren’t a salt bomb and that the gnocchi were a little less leaden. Even if you go heavy on pastas, and you should, you’ll want an order of excellent garlic bread to go with them.
If it were me, I’d stop there—skipping the overcooked hanger steak, the unmemorable porcini-dusted tuna, and the merely fine Arctic char—and head straight to dessert.
Katherine Thompson is now one of the area’s top pastry chefs. Her sweets are simple and assured. She makes magic from, say, a dark-chocolate custard with a fluff of whipped cream and a handful of crushed chocolate cookies. Or a crème fraîche panna cotta with peaches and Prosecco sorbet. I can’t wait until next summer, when her stunning berry-filled Pavlova makes a comeback. (The recipe is courtesy of her mom, who used to make it at Arlington’s Cassatt’s cafe.) And of course, that olive-oil cake. It’s back, and Thompson hasn’t changed a thing about it.
124 N. Washington St., Falls Church; 703-269-0893. Open Wednesday through Monday for dinner.
This article appears in the November 2019 issue of Washingtonian.