Given its obvious nod to gangster cinema, there’s something redundant in deeming Goodfellas an Italian restaurant – a bit like clarifying that “Major English Poets,” is, shockingly, an English class. Plasma televisions splash Robert DeNiro’s face across the restaurant’s walls, silently looping “The Godfather” and other genre classics (a bit Orwellian for my taste, but harmless enough). The result: an innocent Atlantic City atmosphere, buzzing but businesslike.
Equipped with a newly minted upper patio level, the architecture betrays an American sensibility. Comfortably spread out, the tables favor intimate two-person settings, not quite enough for the entire Corleone dynasty. It’s spacious and swanky, with an admirable rooftop view of the city. Goodfellas is perched just outside the Yale Bubble, hidden on State Street. When I stumbled in on Wednesday afternoon, couples and businessmen populated its tables. Not a backpack in sight (except mine).
At Yale, Italian is synonymous with pizza, a noted absence in Goodfellas’ offerings. Perhaps for that reason, the choices felt more mature, but still familiar. Gnocchi. Chicken Parmigiana. Nothing, it seemed, that required a badly imitated Italian accent. I knew exactly what I would get when I ordered, despite my inexperience with Italian food.
Still, this experience with American Italian was an improvement on those I’ve had before. At age four, I sat next to my mother at a Midwestern Italian restaurant (read: American restaurant with meatballs). Within five minutes, candle in hand, I had lit the red gingham tablecloth on fire. We never got our meatballs. My mom – allergic to garlic, vaguely vegetarian and prone to carryout – once bought Spaghetti-O’s a few years later. With that, my Italian culinary education came to a close.
And given that lack of experience, anything would surprise me. In atmosphere, Goodfellas felt like a beautiful, if sanitized, hotel lobby, but in its offerings, the restaurant struck a more homespun note. Creativity was sacrificed for simplicity, but with success. Unsurprising, then, that we began with the infallible bread-and-olive-oil combination. The breadbasket is my culinary equivalent to elevator music: done well, it is left unnoticed.
If our breadbasket struck a pleasant — if forgettable — note, my garden salad crooned a more melodic tune. With a solid base of fresh greens, the garnishes were sparse: four succulent tomatoes, a sprinkling of balsamic. Unlike my usual hurried gulping of semifrozen packaged spinach in the dining hall, I cherished each bite here. Unannounced, our server surprised us with complimentary bruschetta — just as simple, just as fresh.
As I swallowed my final leaf of lettuce, I glanced up at the subtitled scenes. Cops and gangsters faced off in smoky black alleys. But as sensationalized as it is in décor, Goodfellas’s menu avoided any culinary overindulgence. Each course successfully resisted the temptation of over-seasoning — my breath never reached un-kissable levels, despite garlic’s near-holiness in Italy.
By the entrée, I felt full. But with the arrival of a supersized serving of pasta bathed in vodka cream sauce, my will returned. I felt the same heavy, rich satisfaction of a Thanksgiving meal. The portions were generous, with a liberal heaping of the vodka dressing. The tiny bite of gnocchi that I stole from my friend was just as comforting. There was something nostalgic about the meal, so easy was it to imagine a grandmother crafting the sauce from a time- and family-honored recipe passed down from the shores of Sicily.
Tiramisu and a cappuccino ended the meal on a creative note. The cappuccino, sprinkled with cinnamon, had an appropriately seasonal flair. The tiramisu, house-made, lingered with a subtlety, avoiding the sticky sugarcoated excess of poorly executed desserts.
At 1:00 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, Yale is not a calm place. Yearning for time, we jog to class and skip lunch and glance at iCals for guidance. At Goodfellas, I found refuge — tranquilized by carbs, mesmerized by plasmas. New Haven’s high-end Italian theme park is an indulgence, I think, worth taking.
Contact Hayley Byrnes at firstname.lastname@example.org .