For Ron Molinaro and Bob Wolfinger, fresh, authentic cuisine is the gift that keeps on giving.
The pair runs M/W Hospitality, the restaurant group behind Pirata, NOLA on the Square, Perle and Il Pizzaiolo. Their latest venture is Molinaro Ristorante & Bar.
Located at 2 PPG Place in Market Square in a space formerly occupied by Poros, the upscale eatery specializes in Southern Italian fare.
Executive Chef Domenico Cornacchia, a native of Italy, has worked in kitchens all over the world, including Switzerland, France, New York and D.C. He came to Pittsburgh six months ago to help launch Molinaro.
Cornacchia says all ingredients — from the pasta, pizza and pastry dough to the olive oil and limoncello to the mozzarella cheese — are either imported from his homeland or made on-site in the open kitchen. The freshness enhances the flavor, giving patrons a renewed respect for traditional favorites such as spaghetti pomodoro, gnocchi and ravioli caprese.
In addition to pasta, Molinaro’s menu is heavily influenced by seafood from the Amalfi Coast, a stretch of rugged shoreline in Italy’s Campania region. A large mural of that area’s sun-dappled beaches looms above the bar. Whole fish, such as the salt-crusted branzino, are presented and deboned tableside.
And carnivores won’t be disappointed. Offerings include a New York strip steak with roasted heirloom tomatoes, duck breast with baby kale and raisins in a marsala wine/black mission fig sauce and a porcini-rubbed, dry-aged porterhouse with roasted garlic and rosemary.
Sommelier Mauro Vitali helps patrons select the perfect wine to pair with their meal (Molinaro boasts more than 300 bottles, 70 percent of which are Italian). And pastry chef Jodi McCann creates sugary masterpieces that are as appealing to the eyes as they are to the taste buds. The L’Oro Di Napoli, a butter hazelnut cake with mandarin essence wrapped in dark chocolate mousse, is a sight to behold.
Because of its location in Market Square, Molinaro also caters to the lunch crowd, says General Manager Jeff Custer.
The restaurant offers daily pizza, pasta and mixed grill specials and a $20 “power lunch” that includes two courses: a soup of the day or salad (Caesar or mista) and one of Chef Cornacchia’s seasonal entrée selections.
A private room that can accommodate up to 30 people is available and patio seating gives the upscale restaurant a more relaxed atmosphere, which Custer refers to as “polished casual.”
Kathy Marshall, M/W Hospitality’s director of sales and catering, says this upscale yet approachable vibe is evident in all of the businesses operated by Molinaro and Wolfinger.
When the duo purchased NOLA, the beloved New Orleans jazz brasserie and speakeasy, they kept the Lousiana theme but bumped up the food quality. And Perle, a former champagne lounge that overlooks Market Square, is being rebranded as The Metropolitan Club on the Square, a multi-faceted event space for up to 150 guests.
M/W Hospitality also is giving a (temporary) holiday makeover to the space it owns on Forbes Avenue next to Pirata, its Caribbean-style restaurant.
Starting on Nov. 16 — the city’s annual Light Up Night celebration — Jingle Bar on Forbes will offer Christmas-themed cocktails and fun food options. It will open daily at 5 p.m. through New Year’s Eve.
Along with the fun, Jingle Bar on Forbes has a purpose: Through the sale of holiday cards, which patrons can sign and then hang on the walls amid copious amounts of yuletide bric-a-brac, the company hopes to generate at least $5,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association of Pittsburgh.
“We wanted to have fun,” Custer says, “and do something a little crazy while raising money for a good cause.”