By Stefanie Gans and Rina Rapuano
Italian | McLean
Farro swirled around a pot like risotto is even better than the Arborio rice version, nuttier, chewier, a mound of grains with more integrity, and somehow steals the spotlight from a duo of delicate scallops, pudgy rounds both tender and almost juicy.
During the day at Assaggi Osteria, it’s a ladies-who-lunch scene, and the women know where to find sophisticated dishes, housemade bucatini, long, hollow strands glossed in pecorino Romano and lots of pepper; crisp-skinned branzino next to a fresh, lively bed of greens; and a meal completed with foamy cappuccinos and bombolini, huge, round doughnut holes that are warm and creamy and even better swiped through a patch of Nutella or lemon curd.
Next door, a more casual solution is Assaggi Pizzeria, which fires up chewy pies decorated in creamy cheeses and salty meats. Snacks include fried pasta balls (because why fry up rice, as arancini, when noodles sauced in carbonara is an option?), and artichokes, fried where every petal is coated and crunchy and primed for dipping into a smoked aioli. The kitchens share pastry duties, so go ahead and order those doughnuts on this side too. // 6641 Old Dominion Drive, McLean
Centreville | Italian
“I’ll have the penne alla vodka.” It was a statement, not a question. This dish isn’t on the menu at Ciao Osteria, a homey Italian-American restaurant that commands lines on the weekends in its spot in a Centreville strip mall.
The server wrote down the order, no question. Ciao Osteria is a place of comfort, with standards from the red-sauce-joint canon (on menu or off), and also expertly charring Neapolitan-style pies. The toppings—mozzarella, prosciutto de Parma, arugula—are intentionally sparse, better to let the chewy crust have its moment.
Follow the path most followed and order the boozy, rich, creamy, can’t-go-wrong tiramisu for dessert. // 14115 St. Germain Drive, Centreville
Falls Church | Italian
Katherine and Gabe Thompson ignored the adage. Cliches are for the boring and the uninspired, not the power couple who left New York working for Michelin three-star chefs and their own family of celebrated Italian restaurants.
Native Arlingtonian Katherine did, in fact, come home again, and she set up shop in neighboring Falls Church. Thompson Italian is a welcome back gift to us all. The vibe feels effortlessly cool with white subway tiles behind the bar, brass light fixtures, warm jewel tones, unironic wallpaper accents and a quirky jumbo print of a Moka pot. The food is good, comforting, unfussy: like you showed up unexpectedly at Alison Roman’s house and she already had a few things going. There are hearty meatballs with pops of spice—the Thompsons quickly point out that this is not an Italian restaurant, but their version of modern American cuisine with Italian inspiration—as well as housemade ricotta plated with a mix-and-match salad of crisp nectarines, tangles of arugula and pistachios dressed in a snappy vinaigrette. All the pastas are made by Gabe’s kitchen, and the gemelli proves that in its chewy bite, tossed in a Diablo-like sauce with heat thanks to Calabrian chiles. Gnocchi are dense, and can stand up to the lamb ragu that’s equal parts humble and dazzling.
Katherine’s tutelage in high-end pastry shines here with composed desserts like the chocolate hazelnut torta, a frilly, fancy and delicious sweet that makes sure diners remember it’s why we let talent leave and learn, as long as they come back. // 124 N. Washington St., Falls Church