Café Italia has been serving Italian food since 1976, but has only recently brought its cuisine to Falls Church. The family-owned business opened a satellite restaurant at The Shops at West Falls Church earlier this year, an addition to its original Crystal City location
The restaurant, situated at the far end of the shopping plaza, is large, with separate dining areas surrounding a bar. A tall-backed cream colored booth runs the length of the main dining room, a space appointed with wooden chairs and candlelit tables. Beyond the racks and stacks of bottles of wine, which are a delightful decoration, the dining space is outfitted in plants and some artwork inspired by Italian culture. Comically oversized kitchen tools, like a strainer and whisk, are suspended overhead and placed around the restaurant.
A basket of bread is brought to the table, allowing diners to nibble on buttered slices while perusing the menu. A buffet is available during weekday lunch hours, but for dinnertime meals, orders are placed from the menu.
An appetizer platter offers an assortment of the restaurant’s starters, including the fried mozzarella, fried calamari, and stuffed mushrooms. The fried mozzarella is surprisingly ample, served as palm-sized rounds instead of the more common sticks or bites of the breaded cheese. In the Café Italia variety, the melted cheese inside the fried casing is smooth and creamy, and the fried mozzarella is coated in a pale yellow sauce of white wine, lemon, and butter. The calamari, served with a cup of the house marinara, offers deep-fried squid in different shapes and sizes, golden-fried and pepper-seasoned. The mushrooms that round out the trio are softened by baking but sturdy enough to support a shredded filling with a crab cake-like texture.
Appetizers are few compared to the plethora of entrée options. Deciding between pizza, pasta, or meat-focused entrees (chicken, veal, and assorted seafood) narrows the field, but still leaves many dishes to choose from. Entrées range in price from simple spaghetti dishes, just over the $10 mark, to dishes of veal that cost more than $20.
The veal ossobucco is highlighted as a house signature dish. The entrée serves a sizeable portion of tender, fatty veal shank in a thin and slightly spicy tomato-flavored sauce, with strips of green and red pepper and bits of carrot throughout. A nest of fettuccine sits to the side of the veal shank, supporting the well-cooked meat.
The restaurant has the classic spaghetti in tomato sauce, with or without meatballs, but offers other spaghetti varieties as well, like the spaghetti alla carbonara. This pasta dish is made with a heavy cream sauce flavored with Parmesan cheese that grips the spaghetti and binds it with pieces of bacon and onion.
But the decadence of creamy pasta sauces pales in comparison to the many desserts that the restaurant offers. The shell of the cannoli is filled with sweet ricotta cheese, dusted with powdered sugar, and drizzled with chocolate sauce. A bit of cinnamon flavor from the crisp cannoli shell add spice to an otherwise sweet dessert. The tiramisu, served in a pie-like wedge, also gets the chocolate-drizzle treatment. The flavor from its espresso-soaked lady fingers, amidst layers of rich mascarpone cheese and chocolate syrup, is just slightly discernible.
It would take diners a long while to try all of the many Italian dishes the Falls Church Café Italia offers, but if its legacy is any proof, they’ll have plenty of time.
Café Italia II is located at 7395-A Lee Highway, Falls Church. For more information, call 703-992-9565 or visit cafeitaliarestaurantva.com. Restaurant hours are Monday – Thursday: 11 a.m. – 9:45 p.m.; Friday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Saturday: 10 a.m. – 10:45 p.m.; and Sunday: 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.