Restaurant Review: Thompson Italian

Katherine and Gabe Thompson have created the kind of restaurant every neighborhood craves.

Gemelli with shrimp and breadcrumbs. Photo by Jonathan Timmes.

An evening at Thompson Italian begins with a warm greeting at the door and another at the table. The cocktails are seasonal, so the bracing quaffs that heralded the restaurant’s late summer debut have since given way to winter weather comforts like Sage Against the Machine, made with bourbon, sage, black pepper and angostura and orange bitters. Order garlic bread with your drinks; the focaccia slices are slathered with roasted garlic and baked until the Parmesan cheese forms a golden crust.

For starters, octopus slowly braised in olive oil and bay leaves, charred a la plancha and served with a salad of roasted potatoes, green olives, pickled peppers and almond pesto, offers a delightful balance of saltiness, richness and texture.

A fritto misto of calamari, hot peppers and lemon slices is a fine rendition of the trattoria classic, even if the lemon slices could have been thinner—that’s a lot of rind to eat otherwise. Similarly, the components of a bright, straightforward fall salad of apples, fennel, celery and red onions could have been sliced with more precision to look less like something you’d make at home.

Cauliflower ravioli. Photo by Jonathan Timmes.

Gabe Thompson exerts plenty of “pasta power,” starting with making nearly all of his pastas in-house. The quality of a Bolognese sauce is always a good litmus test for Italian cooking, and his passes with flying colors—rich, slow-cooked and rife with ground Chapel Hill Farm Randall Lineback Ruby Veal and Roseda Farm beef, finished with butter and Parmesan. It clings perfectly to fresh pappardelle noodles that have just the right amount of chew.

Another winner is the twisted housemade gemelli with a piquant tomato and Calabrian chili sauce, shrimp and breadcrumbs.

The star of the pasta list, though, is ravioli filled with cauliflower, mascarpone and Parmesan cheese and topped with toasted pine nuts, raisins and capers. This dish is a beautiful blend of sweet and savory.

Among the meat and fi sh courses, the standout is the market fi sh, which, in my case, was medium-rare tuna, seared in a blackened porcini and oregano crust, sliced and served with sautéed hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, celery purée, frisée lettuce and a drizzle of olive oil. (The chef finishes many dishes with estate olive oils from Tuscany, Sicily or Abruzzo.)

Another entrée finds whole boneless chicken breast, its crispy skin deftly rendered of fat, sitting atop a stew of tomatoes, kale and chicken sausage. It’s interspersed with large focaccia croutons that soak up the juices, making this lovely provincial dish hearty and rib-sticking. Just don’t eat all of it, because you have to save room for dessert, right?

If my descriptions of Katherine’s panna cotta and olive oil cake failed to tempt you, perhaps her cannoli will. The thin, crispy cylinders of fried pastry dough are filled to order with ricotta cream, tiny chocolate chips and housemade candied orange peel, then dipped in chopped pistachios at both ends. “They’re a bitch to make,” she admits. But they are oh so easy to devour.

Categories: Food & Drink
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