Walking into La Piazza is a bit of shock. A year ago no one could imagine a classy Italian restaurant where that old movie return box once stood behind the Bookstore. So what is so great about this new place? Well, to start off, it’s a great Italian restaurant with reasonable prices. And guess what? The bar is open until 2 a.m. on weekends.

This “Bistro Italiano,” which officially opened for business this past Monday, is tastefully decorated. The furniture has a beautiful cherry finish, and small candles illuminate every table. The high ceilings and romantic lighting create a very relaxed atmosphere. The trendy place settings and funky glassware only add to the ambiance. And, of course, looking out through the glass one feels as if he is staring out on a quaint Tuscan village.

So what about the food? The menu at this restaurant is certainly of a different flavor than that of owner Gideon Gebreyesus’s other New Haven hot spot, Caffe Adulis. Gebreyesus was looking for something different, something that he felt was missing from the Yale scene: a nice Italian restaurant close to campus. Unlike Yorkside, La Piazza does not do take out, and unlike Naples, they have a shiny brand new liquor license. The extensive wine collection is more than ample enough to overshadow the absence of a beer tap.

Almost all of the dishes on the menu are pleasing to the palate, but there are a few fine pieces that are absolutely exceptional. Chef Alforo Genovese, formerly of Est, Est, Est and more recently Cafe Bravo, is especially talented when it comes to his incredible appetizers and desserts.

To start off the night I would recommend some tomato and basil pizza. The thin crust is toasted to perfection and the sauce is incredibly fresh and flavorful. Or, if you are so inclined, opt for the fried calamari: cooked to perfection, the accompanying sauce is not to be missed. If any is left over, it is a perfect accent to the endless supply of soft, warm bread.

For a main dish, the veal marsala is a great pick. The meat is very tender and the mushroom sauce is absolutely fantastic. For those looking for a nice pasta dish, La Piazza offers a variety of fresh sauces, among them pomodoro, piscina, bolonese, and al a vodka. The pomodoro was my favorite — very fresh and zesty. I would also highly recommend the piscina. The unique menu allows for diners to not only select their preferred pasta, but accompanying sauce as well. Unfortunately, seafood does not seem to be Genovese’s strong point. While the tilapia, with a light butter sauce and capers was satisfactory, the shrimp scampi can be avoided.

So what to drink? Well, if you’re like me and you don’t have ID, you might want to go for a simple carbonated beverage. Coke from a glass bottle adds a bit of fun to your night. And for those of you who happen to be of age, you should certainly sample from their extensive collection of aforementioned moderately priced wines. With either option, you are sure to feel trendy and satisfied.

If you decide to leave before dessert you will miss out on the best part of the evening. The chocolate caramel pyramid is unforgettable. The chocolate is smooth, the caramel is creamy and a few raspberries on the side add a little kick. Be sure to seek out items not pictured on the menu. At La Piazza, a careful reading is in order.

So how much might a night at La Piazza run you and your date? An appetizer and entree should go for about $20 per person, but don’t deprive yourself of a nice glass of wine. Or if you’re like me, sit back and enjoy a nice cold, refreshing bottle of Coca Cola.

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