Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Il Ponte: Compelling Italian Cuisine in Woburn

Chef Beni Kurti of Il Ponte has brought his deep passion, lengthy culinary experience, and charm to Woburn. I highly recommend that all of my readers check out his excellent Italian cuisine, from home-made pasta to Neapolitan pizza. 

Back in December 2023, I wrote an article with my First Impressions of Il Ponte. I've now dined there three times, plus got take-out once, so it's time for a more in-depth review. As I wrote before, I've known Chef Beni Kurti for several years, as he's a regular customer at the wine shop where I work, and he often spoke of his desire to open his own restaurant. Last fall, his dream came true when he opened Il Ponte in Woburn. I wasn't aware of his new restaurant until recently but once I learned of it, I've been there several times. 

Beni, a native of the Umbria region of Italy, has lived in the U.S. for about ten years or so and has about 30 years of experience in the restaurant industry. His wife, Hortenca Sheshori, who is also a native of Italy, also has numerous years of restaurant experience, and she works at Il Ponte as well. Even Beni's son works there, a true family affair. 

The homey restaurant, with a casual elegance, seats about 50 people, and has a small bar with about seven seats. The restaurant is often busy, so I'd suggest making reservations, especially if you want to dine there on the weekend. The bar seats seem to fill up fairly quickly as well, although sometimes those guests are only there for a cocktail or glass of wine, so their seats free up after a relatively short time. The full food menu is available at the bar, and I sat there on one of my visits.  

They have a full bar, with a number of Signature Cocktails (most about $14), from the classic Aperol Spritz to Beni's Limoncello Martini. The Aperol Spritz was a hefty-sized cocktail with a pleasant and well-balanced taste. The bourbon selections include choices such as Blanton's and Pappy Van Winkle. They also carry four beers, from Moretti to Heineken

The Wine list has recently been revised and expanded, and now they about 40 choices, mostly Italian, although with 9 choices from France, California, and Argentina. There are 14 choices available by the glass, mostly costing $12-$13, with one at $14 and one at $21. Most of the bottle prices range from $42-$99, with about 25% being more splurge choices, costing $110-$590. There are Italian whites, made from grapes such as Grechetto and Falanghina, and Italian reds, including Barbera, Barolo, Amarone, and more. When ordering wine here, I'd recommend you choose an Italian option. 

From the list, I've enjoyed two of their wines, including the 2015 Carus Gaudio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione ($59) and the Gianni Gagliardo Barbera d'Alba ($54). Both were delicious, interesting and went well with the various dishes. There are plenty of other wines on the list I want to explore in future visits.   

Each table receives a complimentary basket of fresh, warm and tasty bread and foccaia, with a small tub of olive oil and garlic cloves. What an excellent way to begin your dinner! I love warm bread, and each time I've dined here, I've smeared garlic and olive oil on my slices. 

The Food Menu has plenty of tasty and interesting options and there's usually a couple of Specials each night, such as an Appetizer and an Entree. You can begin with their Antipasti, which offers 10 choices  ($14-$32), such as a brick-oven Octopus, Beef Carpaccio or Prosciutto & Burrata Umbrian Style. The Insalate offers 4 choices ($13-$14), including Caesar Salad, Braised Beets Salad, Arugula Salad and a Soup of the Day

The Le Nostre Paste, their Pasta dishes, are all made in-house. You have 10 choices ($21-$26), including Spicy Rigatoni, Squid Ink Pasta with Polipo, and Gnocchi all Sorrentina. Their Pizza Napoletana is wood fired at 900 degrees, and there are 8 choices available, including 4 Red and 4 White Pizzas ($18-$24). Finally, their Secondi, main entrees, has 8 choices ($28-$47), such as Honey Lavender Duck, Tonno al Pepe Verde, and Pork Tovarisch. Based on the high quality and quantity of each dish, the prices are reasonable. 

As for Antipasti, the Crispy Shrimp ($18) is a new addition to their menu. The spicy shrimp are in fagioli all' uccelletto, a Tuscan dish of cannellini beans in a tomato sauce with fried sage and garlic. The plump and tender shrimp had a light and crispy batter, allowing the shrimp to shine and not be overwhelmed by the batter. The beans, sage and garlic were a nice addition, everything cooked perfectly. 

This dish seems to be a variation of their Prosciutto and Burrata Umbrian Style ($20), which has two pieces of puffy fried dough (without any sugar or cinnamon), topped by prosciutto and mortadella, with creamy burrata and a balsamic reduction. A delightful combination of textures and fresh flavors, and the fried dough was an intriguing variation. 

The Asparagus alla Bismark ($18) comprised an asparagus gratin, sunny side egg, toasted hazelnuts, and truffle in a cacio e Pepe sauce. This dish was a big hit at my table, with tender, thin asparagus, the crunch of the hazelnuts, and the subtle truffle and sauce. It was said to be one of their favorite asparagus dishes in a long time.  

An Antipasti Special one evening was a Raviolo al' Uovo, a huge ravioli, stuffed with ricotta and a runny egg yolk, in a brown butter sauce. The video above shows the ravioli being cut into, and the egg yolk seeping out. This was another delicious and well-balanced dish, with perfectly cooked pasta, lots of creamy ricotta, the rich taste of egg yolk and a delightful sauce. Highly recommended.

This is their wood-fired Pizza Oven, which fires at 900 degrees, and it's visible from certain vantages in the dining room. Such a compelling view!

I previously wrote about the Quatro Formagi Pizza, and now I'll discuss two more of their scrumptious pizzas. I'll note that in all of these pizzas, the crust is perfect: light, airy and crisp, with some slight charring. And they look beautiful too. Above is their Pepperoni Pizza ($20), with tomato, mozzarella, cacio, and olio santo. A tasty sauce, plenty of meaty and slightly spicy pepperoni, lots of cheese and that perfect crust. 

The Fico va a Parma Pizza ($24) is comprised of fig, mozzarella, walnuts, goat cheese, cacio, prosciutto, and arugula. In the first picture above, you can see the pizza before the prosciutto and arugula were added, showcasing the ingredients which are later covered up. The bottom picture shows the completed pizza, the prosciutto and arugula concealing the bottom toppings. Another absolutely delicious pizza, with sweet, salty, and slightly bitter flavors, enhanced by creamy, crunchy, and crisp textures,

This is one of the best places in the Woburn area for Neapolitan pizza, and it's well worth getting it even just for takeout. 

As for Pasta dishes, I previously wrote about the fantastic Tortellini all Norcina. Another recent addition to their menu is La Gricia ($24), made in a traditional Roman style, with house-made rigatoni, cacio e pepe, and guanciale. A relatively simple dish, but expertly created. The rigatoni were nicely al dente, and the guanciale was excellent, crispy, meaty and salty. There was a richness to the dish with the cheese and the fat of the guanciale. 

As for Secondi dishes, I previously wrote about the amazing Veal alla Petroniana. One of the Secondi Specials one evening was Swordfish ($46), parmesan crusted with a puttanesca sauce and accompanied by a chive risotto. The top photo is how the dish arrived at the table, and the bottom photo shows the swordfish with the removal of the greens, so you can see the puttanesca sauce. This was one of the juiciest swordfish dishes I've enjoyed in quite some time, enhanced by that beautiful and crispy crust and the tasty puttanesca. It was also quite a substantial piece of swordfish too. The creamy risotto was a fine accompaniment as well. Highly recommended.

The Pollo ai Funghi ($32) is essentially a variation of Chicken Marsala, with two good-sized and tender chicken escalopes, smothered in mushrooms, in a light Marsala sauce and accompanied by pasta. The Marsala sauce was mildly sweet and rich in flavor, and it gently coated everything, rather than  forming a pool beneath the chicken and pasta. Delicious, cooked perfectly, and a fine entree.   

The Dessert menu has 6 choices ($9-$13), from Tiramisu to Cannoli, and the desserts are generally made from scratch. Above, the photo shows two desserts, the Bombolone (warm donuts with chocolate chip gelato, served with English cream and chocolate sauce) and the Semifreddo (pistacchio and honey mousse, with mixed berry gelato, English cream, and brutti ma buoni biscotti). Both were quite tasty, especially the gelatos, and each dish was a pleasant mix of flavors and textures. The mousse was quite intriguing and delicious. 

This was a Special one evening, with a molten Chocolate cake (made from scratch), a mixed berry gelato, English cream, and more. I didn't get the exact name of this dish, but its taste is quite memorable. The cake was rich, creamy and chocolately, with bright red fruits in the gelato. A heavenly dessert. 

Service was excellent on all of my visits, the servers being genuinely personable and attentive, without being obtrusive. Although you have one primary server, the servers work as a well-oiled team. Chef Kurti, during the course of the evening while he's working in the kitchen or at the pizza oven, makes time to stop by numerous tables to check how the customers are enjoying their dinner. He's such a charming man, with a deep passion for Italian cuisine, and a great culinary talent. 

On each visit, I enjoyed an excellent, delicious and consistent dining experience. I'm so impressed with Il Ponte and it earns my highest recommendation. I'll be returning there again soon, and hope all my readers visit this restaurant as well. You won't be disappointed. 

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