One of the tag lines Molinari’s, an Italian restaurant on Bethlehem’s south side, uses is “save the airfare”, implying that the food at Molinari’s is just as good as the food in Italy. I’ve eaten my way around Italy, so here’s my take on that!!
I’ve been to Molinari’s about half a dozen times, my first visit was just days after they opened, so even though this review is based on my most recent dining experience there, much of it is a compilation of my observations over time. I’ve always been put off by the layout of the restaurant, but could never quite figure out why. Last night, after being seated in a booth on the right side , I asked my dining companion what she thought of the look of the interior and she hit the nail on the head “the other side looks like a cafeteria” exactly!!! the tables are spaced too far apart, but the worst transgression (yes, I think mistakes in restaurants are, in fact, transgressions) is that many of the 4 tops only have 2 chairs at them, it looks terrible. I think a white tablecloths and chairs all around would make a huge difference. As we had already had a pre-dinner cocktail (at the Bookstore, review another time), we opted for a bottle of wine. The wine list there is quite nice, although weighted very heavily on the reds, and we wanted a white. We chose a nice Soave, which you almost never see on a wine list- if you ever do, order it. Our waitress asked us if we wanted a chiller with it, odd I thought. I have to say here, this was the best service I’ve ever had a Molinari’s, it’s been frantic or nonexistent on other occasions, Diedra was there just enough, and not too much, job well done.Before we ordered, we were brought over a plate of warm foccacia and some lovely olive oil from nearby Seasons. My dinner partner, who lives in close proximity to NYC and all it’s wonderful restaurants remarked that it was the best foccacia she’d ever had. For an appetizer, we chose to share the burrata. Diedra explained that it is always served with seasonal accompaniments , this time with prosciutto, marinated zucchini, local radishes, and mache, and a fabulous vinaigrette. Quite possibly the best burrata I’ve ever had, the perfect amount of softness in the middle. I was impressed that when asked, Diedra fessed up to the fact that they don’t make it in-house, but rather get if from an import company they use. I will be stalking their deliveries to get the name of that import company! My friend chose the scallops on potato puree for dinner, I went with the pizza (let’s just see if it lives up to pizza in Italy!) mushroom, with a fried egg on top. Let me say here that while I appreciate a description of what I am ordering, I do not need, or want a 5 minute dissertation on every single thing that is coming on my plate and its history. If there are going to be 4 corn kernels on my plate, don’t waste my time telling me what farm they came from, when they were harvested, and the ten steps the chef went through to get them to me- ain’t nobody got time for that- I have wine to drink- go away Diedra, just bring me my food!!! I’m going to start with the scallop dish. Remember those 4 corn kernels I mentioned a minute ago? I think the cobs may have been used to flavor the potato water, because that potato puree was ever so subtly sweet- not sweet the way almost everything in every Italian restaurant is, where you want to spit out the food because it tastes like the chef fried 6 pound of garlic in sugar and then threw it in your food (read Mamma Ninas) just a hint of sweet, really lovely. The puree was also silky, and yet not too liquidy. No, I’m not saying too much about that puree, it was that good. The scallops, a bit under cooked (and coming from me that’s something, I undercook everything, overcooking was the number one crime at FCI), but really just a bit. They were fresh and beautifully sautéed. All in all, a truly wonderful dish. Now the pizza- I spend a good amount of time daydreaming about the pizza in Italy. It does not resemble that gooey, squishy, cheesy crap you’re used to eating here in the good ol USA. It resembles the pizza at Molinari’s – a lot! Thin, crispy crust, just the right amount of each ingredient. My pizza had wild mushrooms, thin sliced fingerling potatoes, arugula, and a touch of fresh ricotta cheese, fresh rosemary and a runny egg completed the pie. It was really, really good. We opted, at my insistence, for the dark chocolate Budino with espresso creme. Oh my, it was like dark chocolate pudding on steroids- so incredibly thick, and rich and yummy.
All in all, the food at Molinari’s is great. If you are a fan of lasagna, meatballs, baked ziti, Parmigiano anything, go someplace else- heaven knows you have about a thousand options. If you are looking for fresh, in season, Northern Italian food, prepared obviously by a chef who really cares about what you are eating, go to Molinari’s. Am I going to save the airfare? Hell no. I’m counting my pennies and the days until I can return to Italy, but until that day, when I need a fix of good Italian food that reminds me of Italy, I’m happy that Molinari’s is here on the South Side of Bethlehem.