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“Complicated menu but fresh and tasty food”
Review of Molinari's

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Ranked #25 of 360 Restaurants in Bethlehem
Certificate of Excellence
Price range: US$15 - US$30
Cuisines: Italian
Dining options: Reservations
Restaurant details
Dining options: Reservations
Reviewed 14 January 2012

I enjoyed each course I ordered at this new restaurant last week. However, every course needed an explanation from the patient wait staff regarding how it would be prepared! The food was tasty, included the fresh arugula salad with mushrooms and pistacios, a homemade pasta dish with various veggies, and a dessert of espresso and dark chocolate. However, when others have asked what they serve, I must chuckle and recommend that they ask! I cannot recall when I last visited a restaurant with such a complicated menu. Fortunately, the timing of my visit was not the busy dinner hour, so the wait staff had time to explain to each of us every item that was mentioned. However, by the time we left, the restaurant was buzzing with people (good for business!) and it seems likely that it would have been difficult to ask for such time.
Overall, I will be happy to dine in this restaurant again, because the food was fresh and delicious, but I won't be the one to lead the group to visit. However, should I hear about a change in the menu descriptions (not necessarily what food is served), I'll be glad to go back.

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    • Food
1  Thank dartmouthmom
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 12 January 2012

The Lehigh Valley has a variety of Italian-American restaurants and some of them are very good. Molinari's distinguishes itself by rejecting Italian-American cuisine in favor of authentic Italian food -- a brave and risky proposition in an area where people are usually fine with (and frequently expect) spaghetti and meatballs and calzones. But this is good business, too: why compete in a crowded market when you can offer something different?

With a pizza oven imported from Naples and all of their pasta and desserts made in-house, Molinari's aims for the literal definition of 'authentic' rather than some ambiguous, marketing idea of it -- this is Italian food that you would find in a corner trattoria with all that entails. For us, this was nothing short of amazing, but visitors unfamiliar with Italian-style cuisine should check their expectations. The good stuff first:

- The menu is laid out in the traditional Italian manner: antipasti and appetizers, a pasta course, and then a main course, though two of the three (when ordering full portions) will likely be plenty -- the pasta dishes are available in half portions as well.
- We started with a baby arugula salad and a crostini with pesto and ricotta appetizer. Both were excellent. The pesto and ricotta was delicious without overpowering and the bread for the crostini was neither so hard that the whole thing falls apart after one bite nor too soft and mushy.
- They brag a bit about their homemade pasta and the two dishes we had (canestri with a meat ragu and their signature 'putanesca Molinari') lived up to the hype. The meat sauce was flavorful and not too sweet.
- The wine list has a great selection of Italian wines but hasn't forgotten that it's in South Bethlehem, so many of them are very affordable by the glass or the bottle.
- Other reviews have raved about their gelato, so we tried their orange olive oil lemon cake and their panna cotta for dessert. The orange cake was excellent, but the panna cotta was one of the best either my wife or I had ever had.
- The prices were very reasonable -- $6 appetizers, about $11 for a pasta dish, and a little more for a meat or seafood entree. We didn't last long enough for a meat/fish course (and we wanted to try the desserts) but for what you get, this is a steal.

I'd call these 'things to be aware of' more than 'cons' but it will depend on your taste:

- If you've been to other Italian places in the Lehigh Valley, you may be used to enormous 'something for everybody' menus. The menu is two sides of one page, with a good list of appetizers and salads, a handful of pastas, and a handful of meat and fish courses. We felt that there was a pretty good range even within just two pages (vegetarians won't go hungry) but If you have picky eaters (children) who want their chicken parm, you might have to persuade them to order something they can't pronounce -- but please do. It'll be worth it.
- The menu isn't as esoteric as I'm making it out to be -- it really is 'simple' Italian food; that's just a bit different from what we're used to round these parts. It's tough to talk about the value of 'authentic' food without sounding like a snob or putting down the competition, but that's really not the case here: this is a very different experience than what you'd get at Mama Nina's. They're not really comparable: one has great Italian food and one has great Italian-American food.
- While I was impressed that the wine list had as many affordable options as it did, the cost of importing Italian wine means that the lower end of the list isn't the best stuff you'll drink, but this, too, has a kind of authenticity to it: drink cheap wine while you wait and with appetizers, and then move up a notch for your entree if you are a wine person. It's worth spending a couple extra bucks for for the second tier bottles and glasses if you care about that sort of thing, but you're pretty easily pleased (as we are) then it doesn't matter much. A long beer list and and ten or so specialty cocktails should satisfy everybody else.

Molinari's reminded me of a little place near where we used to live in Brooklyn's Prospect Heights neighborhood called Aliseo, which has great food and an eccentric owner who will fiercely defend his region's (Italy's Marche region) local cuisine. Molinari's doesn't claim to favor any one part of Italy (which is possibly the only non-Italian thing about it) but served us one of the best meals we've had in Bethlehem. It's on par with either an Italian trattoria or an NYC simulacrum of one, but thankfully priced much closer to the former. The service was friendly and attentive and I'm looking forward to going back!

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7  Thank AdDextra
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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