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New Haven’s newest Italian offering opened last week in downtown. 

Villa Lulu, the product of seasoned restaurateur Moe Gad, opened on Wednesday at a ribbon-cutting ceremony outside of the restaurant’s location at 230 College St. The modern Italian eatery, which boasts a diverse menu of pastas, salads and classic Italian entrees, is Gad’s second restaurant on College Street and his third in the Elm City.

The new restaurant opens in a Yale-owned location that was occupied by Queen Zuri’s New Orleans Delicacies until 2019. Gad, an Egyptian immigrant who moved to New Haven in 2006, also owns Pacifico, a tapas bar a building down from Villa Lulu, and Tomatillo, a Mexican joint on Broadway. None of Gad’s restaurants, in New Haven or elsewhere, are Italian. With Villa Lulu, he decided to break that tradition.

“There was a need for an Italian restaurant in downtown New Haven,” Gad said. 

Some of New Haven’s more famous Italian restaurants –– pizzerias Sally’s and Pepe’s, which have been tourist destinations for decades –– operate half a mile off campus in the Italian-predominant Wooster Square neighborhood, Gad said. He hopes Villa Lulu will find its niche in the downtown area.

To start Villa Lulu, Gad reached out to former Tarry Lodge head chef Dennis Markovich. Tarry Lodge, a longtime destination for upscale Italian food that is located across from Davenport College on Park Street, closed in June, leaving Markovich on the hunt for new opportunities. 

Markovich, who was born in Belarus, fell in love with Italian cooking after immigrating to the U.S. as a child. And at Villa Lulu, he is putting his skills to the test.

“It’s not your typical pizza-pasta place,” Markovich said, emphasizing his goal for Villa Lulu to be sophisticated but comfortable. “We wanted to make something different … [yet] keep it classic.”

As such, his menu centers Italian classics like bucatini amatriciana, veal marsala and chicken scarpariello. But each dish has a modern twist. Markovich highlighted Villa Lulu’s octopus as an example of this –– a staple of Italian cooking that he has modified with local ingredients.

Like Markovich, Lauren Zucker, associate vice president at the University’s Office of New Haven Affairs, is bullish about Villa Lulu’s future.

Zucker mentioned that Yale, which owns the space occupied by two of Gad’s restaurants, Pacifico and Villa Lulu, has had a “long and fruitful relationship” with Gad after working with him for over 17 years. Zucker said that Gad’s businesses have helped advance the University’s community investment agenda. Villa Lulu alone, she said, is expected to create around 20 jobs for the city.

Gad told the News he is excited to be launching his newest venture at a Yale-owned location. During the pandemic, he said crucial investment from Yale during a difficult period proved to him the value of their relationship. Last spring, Gad said, this support kept Pacifico afloat. With Yale’s help, Gad was able to reopen the restaurant for outdoor dining in May after a short closure.

Despite the lingering difficulties of the pandemic, Gad is energized about Villa Lulu and about his future in New Haven.

“What I love about this town is that every year, I get a new customer,” Gad said.

Villa Lulu is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. It is closed on Mondays.