Molinaro Ristorante & Bar charms with old-school Italian fare | Restaurant Reviews | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Molinaro Ristorante & Bar charms with old-school Italian fare

Plates flaunt the expected — cavatelli and branzino — alongside rare, fresh inspiration

click to enlarge The Vitello Milanese (pan-fried veal chop) - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
The Vitello Milanese (pan-fried veal chop)

Pittsburgh has it all: chain Italian, fast-casual Italian, and upscale Italian. In a crowded room, Molinaro Ristorante & Bar brings old-world, classic dining to the table. The restaurant nods to traditions and trends, offsetting the charade of bow-tied servers with a swanky bar. Plates follow suit, flaunting the expected — cavatelli and branzino — alongside dishes with rare, fresh inspiration. 

Molinaro Ristorante & Bar is a new addition to Market Square. The restaurant lives in the glass castle space formerly occupied by Poros, and bones of the old restaurant still visible in its architecture. Molinaro marks the beginnings of a Market Square transformation, led by M/W Hospitality. The group also owns NOLA on the Square, Perle, Il Pizzaiolo, and Pirata (soon-to-be Wolfie’s Pub).

The building starts with a stacked and glistening bar surrounded by high tables decked-out in white tablecloths. Two steps away, the atmosphere changes and opens to a pageant of white-suited servers. Exaggerated dining room decor imitates Italian frescos, a fanfare of ornate murals on the wall, swelling in waves. A cathedral-esque dome beams light onto the bar. The menu takes inspiration from the seafood-heavy Amalfi Coast, reflected in tributes to the sea that twist around the bar like tides.

Molinaro practiced the art of leisurely, drawn-out meals, clear from the menu’s many sections. The long list lent itself to a seven-course, dining extravaganza, which I narrowed down to three things: octopus, pizza, and a strip steak.

Octopus found a home among classic antipasto, the lighter alternative to meatballs and eggplant. Two gorgeously charred tentacles sat on a bed of cauliflower, pine nuts, and golden raisins, circled by a ring of olive oil. It was made for sunny days, light and sweet with a quiet punch of citrus and a bite of a grill. Despite some chewy bites, I was sold. 

The strip steak enticed me with the promise of balsamic, parmesan, and Roman gnocchi. It was a simple, straightforward preparation of an often over-dressed dish. They let the meat shine, a blackened crust explosive with salt, teasing the zip of balsamic. Cuts were smooth and juicy, a success in every way. 

Molinaro specializes in authentic, Neapolitan style pizza, a pizza experience unlike any other. It’s cooked fast in flames, bubbling the crust and lightly kissing toppings with a scorch. Toppings are scattered within tomato sauce, each bite different from the one before. That’s the beauty with this style of pizza — no two bites are the same. 

Pizza was the star for my table. It was outstanding. The stunningly ballooned crust framed fior di latte (mozzarella), Neapolitan salami, fresh basil, Romano, and finished with a drizzle of olive oil. Ingredients were fresh and the sauce ripe with raw, acidic harmony.  

I was once told that “crust needs to be worth eating,” the rare find — pizza crust that held flavor without extra sauce — worth leaving a diet for. Molinaro fired a crust with value, meant to be devoured. 

Molinaro Ristorante & Bar revisits a ritualistic way of eating out, throwing white-tablecloth touches in with prices to match. At times it’s a bit elaborate, but leaning into the Molinaro way, the restaurant charms with an old-school, almost otherworldly dinner.

Favorite Features

1. Carafes

Bartenders at Molinaro don’t just pour a few ounces of wine in a glass. Instead, they pour tableside, from an adorable tiny vase.

2. Urns

Gorgeous, ornamental urns adorn almost every flat space in the restaurant and counting them is like counting stars. 

3. People-watching windows

Windows at Molinaro are perfect for people-watching. Eat a delicious meal while watching Market Square bustle around you. 

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