Restaurant Review: Thompson Italian
Katherine and Gabe Thompson have created the kind of restaurant every neighborhood craves.
It’s not often that the very first bite of a dish kicks your neurons into rapid fire, grabs your taste buds by the lapels and screams to your brain that something extraordinary is happening. I had this experience at the restaurant chef Gabe Thompson and his wife, pastry chef Katherine Thompson, opened in August in Falls Church. During dessert. More than once.
Those neurons pinged over and over, like a pinball racking up points, whether the source of my delirium was Katherine’s ethereal panna cotta with cabernet pear sorbet, homemade gingersnap crumbles and pears marinated in lemon syrup and pear brandy; or her Madeira-laced olive oil cake topped with creme fraiche mousse and a compote of raisins soaked in Grand Marnier caramel syrup. Chocolate fans will melt over her chocolate-hazelnut torta, a three-layered delight of hazelnut dacquoise (meringuebased cake), Nutella and feuilletine (crispy crepe cookies), topped with fudgy ganache and served with hazelnut ice cream and candied hazelnuts.
This is not to take anything away from Gabe’s superb savory cooking—which I will get to shortly—but if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t save room for dessert, you might consider starting with that course and working your way backward.
The Thompsons (he’s from San Antonio; she’s from Arlington) have sterling bona fides in the restaurant world. Both are culinary school graduates who sought success in New York City and found it—Le Bernardin, Per Se and other well-known Manhattan spots pop up on their résumés. The two met in 2007 through a mutual friend at Del Posto, married in 2008 and then teamed up to launch several restaurant projects of their own in the West Village— dell’anima, L’Artusi, L’Apicio, and a wine bar, Anfora. In 2014 they co-authored a cookbook, Downtown Italian. They also had two kids and decided it was time to leave New York.
In 2015, the family moved to Katherine’s hometown (they now live in Arlington Forest) after Gabe landed a job as executive chef at RPM Italian on K Street in the District. But their dream was to open another restaurant, close to home. They looked at the former Argia’s space in Falls Church City in 2017 and signed a lease there a year later.
Thompson Italian’s rustic, American trattoria feel takes its cues from the couple’s former New York restaurants, with soft lighting, wainscot beadboard and cushioned banquettes. The restaurant is a relatively intimate 3,500 square feet with seating for 70 inside, 30 in the bar and 20 outside on the back patio. “It’s a nice size for us. Not too big, not too small,” Katherine says. “Falls Church is such a great community. People ride their bikes to us. There is momentum to support businesses here.”
In the dining room, three canvases by Katherine’s father, local artist Michael Lahr, double as soundproofing panels, joining forces with ceiling panels to keep the decibel level manageable. (Praise be the soundproofing, but the full dining room is still quite lively.) On the bar side, stylized concert posters hang opposite a neon “Pasta Power” sign. “Dad designed that, too,” Katherine says of the sign. “Free labor!”