There is a small island in the Philippines called Boracay that I have been fortunate enough to visit. The sand is pure, white, seemingly untouched; the water is so vibrantly turquoise that it looks as though it has been dyed with food coloring. It is a place that is worlds better in person than in even the most flattering of postcards, a place where everything seems “right”—the way it should always be. You just have to experience it.

Molinari’s is another such place.

The stories are so nice and the pictures are so lovely that you wonder if there’s any way that the experience can live up to the expectation. I’m here to tell you that it exceeds it.

How could it not? The restaurant has a collective heartbeat powered by everyone who works there with a relentless dedication for food and hospitality that is rarely seen. To taste Chef Geo Dodig’s cooking or Robert van Thiel’s cocktails is to realize that this is not a job to them. It’s a calling and a passion that is shared with the entire team, so much so that the service at every end feels like a fluid and well-rehearsed dance. It’s magical to witness, and better to taste.

The restaurant has a collective heartbeat powered by everyone who works there with a relentless dedication for food and hospitality that is rarely seen.

The vision for the restaurant, the point of it all, is the idea of community and sustainability. This is why nearly everything on the menu is sourced from within the community, why all of the pastas are made by hand, and why Molinari’s rises to the challenge—and the gift—of showcasing the season on a plate or in a glass.

The restaurant itself is understated, chic in an effortless way. There is no television; there is no WiFi. You are here to enjoy the food and enjoy the company, to revel in the act and art of dining.

You can try Molinari’s any which way: casually, with a marvelous Neapolitan pizza and a glass of wine (chosen from a carefully curated list that earned the restaurant its third consecutive Wine Spectator Award of Excellence—the only family-owned restaurant in the Lehigh Valley to receive the honor); indulgently, perhaps post-dinner elsewhere, with a handcrafted digestif and housemade Gelato; or as a supper destination.

I did the latter.

The menu is divided into several sections. There is spuntini, small bites for nibbling as you peruse the menu and relax into the evening; antipasti, appetizers to share or to savor solo; pizza (you know what to do here); pasta, all of which are housemade and available in smaller portions; and secondi, which are protein-driven entrees. My group ordered a little taste of everything to split across the table, which was the perfect way to experience Molinari’s.

The first star was the Grilled Octopus, which I had never had before, anywhere, ever, and I can’t imagine a better version exists. It is one of the most magnificent dishes I’ve ever had in my life. I’ll say this: If you’re curious about octopus, this is the place to try it. If you’re a cephalopod connoisseur, make a reservation tonight. It’s braised for two hours in onion and fennel, meaning it’s incredibly tasty and tender, and served with fried chickpeas and a smooth yogurt-based sauce. The dish offers flickers of sweet, savory, salty, bitterness, and umami in every bite, making for quite the sensory experience.

The next was the Salsiccia Pizza, a white sausage pie made with housemade sausage, fresh broccoli rabe, and unique housemade lemon ricotta. The savory notes of sausage mixed with the bright and creamy cheese alongside the fresh vegetables was extraordinary. Another standout was the Rosemary Linguine, the components of which are arugula, caramelized fennel, smoked onion crema, crispy duck skin, and confit duck leg. (Oh, yes.) The thoughtfulness behind the dish is noteworthy: the duck is first cured for 24 hours, then slowly cooked for another 4; the onion cream sauce is made from house-smoked white onions that are cooked in cream for hours and then pureed until it becomes rich velvet. Then the duck is shredded and mixed with the handcrafted pasta, ensuring not a single bite goes without a taste of duck. It is an understatement to say that this dish was extraordinary.

It’s one thing to run a restaurant, and it’s another thing to run a restaurant well. To run a restaurant that cares as much as Molinari’s does, not only about the clientele but about the farmers, the community, the staff, the food itself, and then the guest experience from start
to finish on top of all of that, is no small feat.

To celebrate its sixth anniversary, Molinari’s will host another Feast of the Seven Fishes on Friday, December 15, and Saturday, December 16. The nine-course affair offers an exquisite seafood-driven menu with nine wine pairings. The intention behind each course will be explained, and the selected wines will be introduced and described. We are fortunate that Molinari’s has decided to offer such an educational epicurean experience—if you can, take advantage of it, and bring a friend. Call the restaurant for details and reservations.


322 E Third St, Bethlehem

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