Hey, Molinari’s- I have a question for you:
My only complaint about my experience at Molinari’s is that it took me as long as it did to get there. Molinari’s sits on 3rd St in Southside Bethlehem, within minutes of the Lehigh Campus. I have seen/tried some of the Italian places on the Northside, and have been overwhelmed by the giant portions and disappointed by the typicality of the menu items. Who knew something so original and with such fantastic quality was just over the bridge? Molinari’s also attempts to source as many of their products locally as possible, which, considering the bounty of farms and local producers that we have nearby, always gets a big thumbs up from me.
So what did we eat that made us so happy? Well, let’s dive right in. We ordered a number of items to share- it being our first time at Molinari’s, we may have gone a little overboard….but we regret nothing.
Prior to even ordering, they brought us housemade rosemary focaccia and some beautiful Escribano Picual family reserve extra virgin olive oil from the Seasons Taproom in downtown Bethlehem. Knowing how much we were about to order, I had to physically restrain myself from eating *all* of the bread. The outside of the thick-cut slices was satisfyingly crunchy, laced through with fragrant rosemary and crispy bits of salt. The inside was light, chewy, and flavorful. Add that to the fruity olive oil and you have an opener that gets you super excited about what is to come.
So here is what we ordered:
Butternut arancini with fontina and basil pesto ($8)
60 minute egg, bread, wilted spinach, speck, chicken sugo ($14)
Burrata with black garlic, lightly pickled cauliflower, and hazelnuts ($15)
Rye pappadelle with duck leg confit, nutmeg, parsnip, parmesan, and foie butter(oops, forgot to note price, I believe it was between $21-24)
Chocolate budino ($9)
I should also note I went back for a work dinner a week later and got the carbonara pizza ($14). I’ll tell you about that too- a little bonus 😉
The arancini easily rank as some of the best I have ever had. A lot of arancini can tend to be a) dry, b) underseasoned, or c) soggy. These were a) gooey and moist, b) super flavorful, and c) nice and crispy on the outside. The melty, cheesy center was creamy without being overpowering, and the basil pesto just brought it all home—without it, the arancini may have been a bit too rich. But the bright herbs livened up these delectable rice balls perfectly.
Then there was the egg dish. Oh my god, the egg. While everything we had was well above average, this egg dish was above and beyond. As I slowly dragged my butter knife across the top, the yolk just oozed out all sexy-like. Now sometimes, when you get the slow-cooked eggs, the white can be a bit too flabby in a very unappetizing way. Not the case here- the white was firm and beautifully seasoned. The pieces of speck were salty, fatty, and perfectly crispy.
The toasted chunks of bread sat in a pool of chicken sugo, patiently waiting to be eaten as they soaked up the awesome juices and egg yolks. The wilted spinach provided a nice bit of bitterness against all of that richness.
We then shared the Buratta with black garlic, lightly pickled cauliflower, and hazelnuts. Now, T and I each have our weaknesses. For him, it’s short ribs. If short ribs are on the menu, there’s a pretty good chance he’s ordering them. For me, it’s burrata. If I see it, odds are that I gots to have it. When it comes to Molinari’s burrata, I have to begin by saying that this plate was just *stunning*. It was like one of those wildflower crowns I
used to make when I was a kid, fresh and light. Flavorwise: the burrata itself was flawless—creamy and perfectly seasoned. The black garlic paste on its own was a bit much, even when paired with the burrata. But when you added the pickled cauliflower (as was obviously intended) – bam. Winner, winner, burrata dinner. I wanted to eat an entire bowl of that cauliflower. The hazelnuts added a nice crunch, but otherwise I’m not sure I would have missed them if they were gone.
Now we get to the Rye pappardelle with duck leg confit, nutmeg, parsnip, parmesan, and foie butter. I know, this is a lot. We started getting kind of full at this point, too. But we were committed. So we powered on. Like champions.
Actually- let’s divert for a quick note on service (I’ll expound upon service in general some more a bit later): we mentioned we were going to share the pappardelle, so they thoughtfully plated it on two dishes and brought us each our own little plates of pasta (which at this point of full-ness was ideal). They make their own pastas in-house, and it shows. It was so very tender,
but still had a good bite to it. The duck was soft, moist, and flavorful (one of my pet peeves is a dry confit…) and that sauce… oh, that sauce. It was rich and deep and earthy and just damned good. Add some fresh parm and call it a day.We did our best, but we still ended up bringing a majority of the pasta home for the next day (bonus meal!).
So there we were, feeling like we were going to die, but figuring at least we would go out happy. Then, in our food-drunk state, we somehow looked at the dessert menu and thought, “Sure. Why not?” Sigh. Famous last words. So we ordered the chocolate budino. And we did not die. Well, actually, we may have died and gone to heaven! (ba dum bum! Thank you! I’ll be here all night!) I was worried that a budino would be too rich- you would think by now that I would have learned my lesson. Of course it wasn’t. It was light, fluffy, and creamy, with a similarly fluffy (and not overly sweetened) whipped cream on top. Yum. Sorry- we appear to have eaten it too quickly to take a photo…
That’s it. Shut it down. No more food.
Drinks: I have a photograph here, but regret that I didn’t write down the name or exact ingredients in drinks we ordered. They were both from the seasonal menu, and we enjoyed them immensely. I often find that cocktails can be overly sweet or sour. These drinks were very nicely balanced and not at all overwhelming. I had a bourbon cocktail that was pleasantly boozy and rich. Definitely some of the best (and most creative) cocktails in town.
Service: So sure, the food was amazing. But what will really bring me back here and make me recommend this restaurant to anyone I know is the service. Regarding the basics, they were attentive, helpful, and patient without being overbearing. Beyond the basics: we had gone to an early seating because we were going to a show at the Zoellner theatre on the Lehigh campus. Halfway through dinner, we realized we had forgotten our tickets. An employee who happened to be nearby overheard my lament. She mentioned that she could call ahead and see if they could have new copies of our tickets for us. Before we could even say anything, she bustled off to make a call. She came back and said all we had to do was go to Will Call and they would give us our new set of tickets. Sure, we could have handled it and figured everything out ourselves. But being able to enjoy an amazing meal and have someone handle a small stressor for you- it helped us just relax and enjoy the experience. A delightful experience that left us full, food-drunk, calm, and content.
Bonus review: I had a work dinner the next week and shared a pizza with a colleague. We had the carbonara pizza. The crust was exactly what I look for in a pizza. You should be able to hear a solid tap-tap noise when you hit the
crust with the tip of your fingernail. It should be a good balance of crispy and chewy. When you pick up a slice, you shouldn’t have to worry about your toppings slipping off the tip because the crust is too weak to hold up its end of the bargain. This pizza knew what it was doing. It had a creamy sauce, crispy pancetta, fresh garden peas… And there was an egg on it. You may not know this about me, but you put an egg on a dish and I’m in. Put it on top of pizza and I am waaaay in.
TL;DR: Go to Molinari’s. Immediately. You can thank me for your mouth happiness later.
Food & Drinks: 19
Overall Score: 28.5