Chef Fabio Trabocchi’s Virginia debut proves a success with Sfoglina

Celebrated chef Fabio Trabocchi’s Virginia debut is a pasta-centric crowd pleaser.

italian food on white table
Sfoglina’s menu includes Italian nibbles from its mozzarella bar. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Before walking into Sfoglina, diners get an alluring glimpse of what might show up on their plates. A glass encased peekaboo workspace at the front showcases sfogline (pasta makers) exercising their craft, perhaps deftly cutting strands of spaghetti or stuffing plump ravioli. It’s an engaging and enticing preview of what’s to come.

The pasta-focused trattoria is the Virginia debut from Fabio Trabocchi, who also owns Fiola, Fiola Mare, Del Mar and two other Sfoglinas, all in DC. Set on a bustling corner of Wilson Boulevard in the middle of Rosslyn, the 4,500-square-foot restaurant packs in 130 seats, including 35 at the bar bridging the building’s atrium and the eatery’s interior, a small chef’s counter along the open kitchen, banquette backed two-tops and larger tables. A peppy soundtrack reigns and the well-lit space is predominated by whites and reds with splashes of golden amber, giving it a festive feeling all year long.

Since opening the original incarnation of Sfoglina in the District’s Van Ness neighborhood in 2016, the James Beard Award-winning chef has continually honed the concept. So, it’s no surprise the results here are mostly highly polished and expertly executed (the menu is nearly identical across all three locations). Much credit is due to the steady hand of executive chef Erin Clarke, who has been working with Trabocchi on and off for over a decade and a half, since Trabocchi’s star-making turn at Maestro in Tysons Corner. A strong service team helps too. During my three visits, servers were uniformly warm, attentive and knowledgeable.

chef plating italian dishes in kitchen
Executive chef Erin Clarke runs the show at Sfoglina’s Rosslyn outpost. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Trabocchi added one unique element to the equation in Rosslyn: a mozzarella bar. It’s a choose-your-own adventure of cheeses, proteins and vegetables. Highlights include milky-fresh balls of burrata, sweet roasted tomatoes swimming in olive oil, paper-thin slices of prosciutto and briny confit tuna complemented by tuna-boosted tonnato sauce. Scoop everything up with triangles of lightly grilled, pita-like flatbread. It’s a great way to start a meal, especially for groups.

There are other appetizers on offer, a mixture of memorable hits and a couple of misses. In the former category: faro salad full of fall flavors—sweet roasted squash, fresh plum slices, crunchy pepitas and peppery arugula. For a heavier start there are tender meatballs—made with the holy trinity of pork, veal and beef—sitting in soft polenta. Less successful are calamari, a tangle of tentacles and tubes with their char taken too far, and dill-forward cucumber salad swimming in a bland milky puddle billed as spicy Calabrese aioli.

Make sure to save most of your stomach space for the stars of the show: the house-made pasta (a pair of gluten-free options are available). For the most part, you can’t go wrong. Yellowed strands of spaghetti twisted up with translucent slices of garlic, fresh parsley and just a smidge of spice makes for a simple, but utterly captivating, dish. Parmesan-amped, slow-braised lamb in a Tuscan lamb ragu ensures the Sardinian ricotta cavatelli is both hearty and heartwarming. Tender knuckles of potato gnocchi are draped with meaty mushrooms to add heft. Oyster and shiitake mushrooms are always in the mix, complemented by whatever other species are in season and decadent porcini cream sauce. All these preparations were remarkably consistent across visits, never losing their soulful sensibilities.

pasta with meat sauce in bowl
The lamb cavatelli is a must-try. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

There are two stutter steps in the lineup, both conceptual issues. Oversized tortelloni, dough green with spinach, are packed with too-sweet barbecued baby back ribs and doused in too-rich brown butter sauce. The flavors of the American South taste out of step with the rest of the menu. And giant tubular paccheri are an odd choice for the carbonara. When the sunny side egg is popped, you can’t coat the unwieldy noodles with the yolk as you would by twirling strands of spaghetti.

For those forgoing carbs, there are plenty of proteins. On the surf side, octopus is a standout. The tender tentacles don’t even require a knife to slice through. For turf, short ribs are the winner. Buttery beef almost as unctuous as wagyu is sous-vide cooked for 72 hours and lightly finished on the grill for a touch of char. It arrives with an understated salsa verde, which could use more acidity to balance the delightful richness of the ribs.

To complement your meal, there’s a sturdy Italian wine list and classic cocktails. Non-drinkers have a few interesting zero-proof options, including a sparkling apple spritzer perked up with lemon juice.

It can be difficult, but save room for dessert. The lightest option is seasonal soft serve sorbet; tangy blood orange was in the rotation for my visits. Refreshing on its own, it takes on a creamsicle sensibility when swirled with the vanilla soft serve. Conversely, supremely indulgent chocolate hazelnut cake is a Ferrero Rocher candy in slice form. There’s no shame in taking some home if you can’t finish. I can attest it makes an excellent breakfast.

Ultimately, Sfoglina exceeds the preview offered by the sfogline in the window. The fare is comforting to the core and will leave you wanting more of Trabocchi’s cooking. You’re in luck, he’s considering opening more restaurants in Northern Virginia.


★ ★★ ☆

SCENE
Boasting pastas for every mood (plus an impressive mozzarella bar and stellar sweets), Fabio Trabocchi’s Virginia debut is comforting  to the core.

DON’T MISS
Meatballs in polenta, lasagna bolognese, lamb ragu cavatelli, chocolate hazelnut cake. // 1100 Wilson Blvd., Arlington

This post originally appeared in our January 2020 issue. For more food stories, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

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