Italy has given us legendary works of art, from the evocative paintings of Caravaggio and da Vinci to the miniature meat sculptures of Boyardee. Admire edible Italian masterpieces with today's Groupon: for $15, you get $30 worth of Italian fare and drinks at La Vita Gustosa Restorante Italiano in East Haddam.
Owner and chef Lorenzo Cacace leads La Vita Gustosa's tight knit staff in crafting authentic Italian platters served in a setting that the Hartford Courant describes as "classy, romantic, casual, warm and inviting." Layers of ricotta, ground beef, and sausage hide beneath the lasagna's ($14.99) pasta sheets after regaling urban legends about the fork-handed maniac.
Sautéed whole clams nestle among garlic and red-pepper flakes over linguine ($17.99), and the bistecca della casa dapples a hand-cut new york strip steak with gorgonzola and balsamic glaze ($24.99). For shareable slices that, like unimaginative chameleons, come in red or white versions, 12 specialty pizzas festoon their disks with such toppings as chicken, spinach, and artichoke hearts. Parmigiana subs cradle cargos of meatballs, chicken, or eggplant betwixt Italian bread halves with mozzarella and marinara ($8.99).
After stepping past La Vita Gustosa's charming red-and-white exterior, visitors can dine beneath the hanging tendrils of decorative ivy and trapeze-swinging octopi. A scenic view affords glances over the Connecticut River and the Goodspeed Opera House, though live-music performances ranging from acoustic rock to modern-dance DJs often vie for sensory attention.
The aroma of freshly baked bread often wafts from the kitchen of La Vita, greeting guests who step through the restaurant's window-paneled doors. That scent mingles with others as chef James Wilder sautés plump, opened clams in olive oil, crushed red pepper, and white wine, and drizzles balsamic glaze over hand-cut new york strip steaks. Rich sauces cling to strands of linguini and orecchiette "ears," and fresh produce from local farms tops New Haven–style thin-crust pizzas.
After enjoying a meal at the eatery, whose polished wood bar complements sunny yellow walls, one Hartford Courant writer described La Vita's ambiance as "classy, romantic, casual, warm and inviting." In warm weather, diners can relax on an outdoor patio with a clear view of Connecticut River and Goodspeed Opera Theater. Live bands, dance parties, and spontaneous reenactments of Broadway musicals keep the fun going long after dinner has ended.