At Molinari’s, a friendly new restaurant in Adams Village in Dorchester, don’t expect small portions or those delicate Northern Italian specialties so trendy right now. Owner Jeffrey Cincotta’s roots are of the red-sauce, abbondanza (“plenty”) variety. Plates here are heaping, as if you were at Nonna’s table.
That’s where Cincotta began cooking, or at least watching. His grandmother Ida Molinari made dinner every Sunday in her Waltham kitchen. Sometimes she told him to run outside and dig up dandelions in the backyard. Later he continued his education at the Culinary Institute of America, and spent 22 years working as a chef in country clubs. “I wanted to put our good Italian food out to the public,” he says. “I wanted a neighborhood.”
That neighborhood is bustling, with Lucy’s American Tavern and Landmark Public House in the old Gerard’s, both also new, a stone’s throw away.
The nonna he cooked with all those years ago is honored on the menu. Ida’s meatballs ($8), with beef, pork, and veal, are tender, juicy little rounds that come in a fine marinara sauce with a pocket of ricotta and a sprinkle of Parmesan. More marinara is layered with crisp, tender chicken breast and provolone in a chicken Parmigiana sandwich ($9) on Iggy’s rolls, a perfect rendition of this Italian-American treasure. The chicken has been dusted with flour, egg, and crumbs, the chef tells me later, then sauteed. “Nothing is going into a Fryolater in my kitchen,” he says, except for arancini, rice balls stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto.
In the dining room, which seats 24, you can watch the activity in the busy kitchen from a barstool, or sit window-side along Adams Street. Cincotta has signed a lease to expand next door, which will almost double the capacity. A wine and beer license was recently granted to the premises.
Crunchy Parmesan croutons are tossed with romaine hearts in a Caesar salad ($7), which a friend and I decide to split. The attentive waitress overhears this and returns with two bowls of salad, split by the kitchen. That lovely gesture doesn’t happen in many places. “When it comes to lettuce,” the chef says, “I give it away.” His classic Caesar is a star. So is an Italian chopped salad ($11) with cured meats, romaine, cranberry beans, pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, and more.
Cincotta, who opened Molinari’s with a financial partner, was most recently at Charles River Country Club in Newton. He is making all the pasta — everything in the kitchen is homemade except the bread — including wide pappardelle with Bolognese ($13). It’s a farmhouse dish, with thick, chewy hand-cut noodles and a marinara-based pork and veal sauce. Thinner noodles would make it outstanding. Feather-light ricotta gnocchi ($14) are delicious with a rich pesto cream. But both are overwhelmed by the amount of sauce.
Chicken wings marinated in rosemary and lemon ($11) are roasted in a wood-burning oven, which is also used for pizza. Cincotta’s marinara is the pizza sauce, and though you can order pies with Ida’s meatballs, roast chicken, shrimp, and all kinds of other toppings, a Margherita with an addition of the chef’s delicious fennel sausage ($16 and $22.50) makes a fine round. The edges are properly charred, but the rest of the pizza is sinking under the weight of sauce.
A huge cube of tiramisu ($8) will feed a family of four. This Kahlua-spiked mascarpone custard, made with espresso, is layered with ladyfingers, but it’s mostly light, smooth custard, dusted with cocoa powder, that somehow manages to sit high on the plate. It disappears, one small spoonful at a time.
Cincotta is making beautiful Italian-American food that’s probably a lot like his grandmother’s. Heaven forbid that anyone leave the table hungry! But Nonna had a heavy hand with the sauce ladle. Here, a little less would be more. We promise we’ll still leave satisfied.
789 Adams St., Adams Village, Dorchester, 617-825-1700, www.molinarispizzeria.com. All major credit cards. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers, sandwiches, and salads $8-$14. Pasta $13-$16. Pizza $13-$25. Dessert $6-$8.
Hours Sun-Thu 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri-Sat 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.
Liquor Wine and beer.
What to order Ida’s meatballs, chicken wings, Caesar salad, Italian chopped salad, chicken Parmigiana sandwich, gnocchi, pappardelle Bolognese, Margherita pizza with fennel sausage.Sheryl Julian can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.