Octopus is challenging. The cephalopod doesn’t have the sexy, meaty appeal of seared tuna or the crispy indulgence of fried calamari—in fact, its suction-cup lined tentacles are like a dare. That’s a challenge we usually accept, and you should too at Il Ponte, the new Italian restaurant nestled in downtown Woburn.
The octopus is both firm and tender, with a tasty char that comes from a weighted sear in the restaurant’s wood-fired oven. No surprise that chef Beni Kurti knows his way around octopus: He cooked in Michelin-starred restaurants in his native Umbria, Italy, steeping in the Italian tradition of sourcing the best ingredients and treating them with care. The appetizer is served with small crispy potatoes and two sauces—a gentle garlic aioli anchoring the presentation in place and a bright, fresh salsa verde, redolent of parsley, garlic, and capers, painted onto the tentacle. Paired with a salad of arugula with a lemony dressing, it is a promising start to any meal.
Kurti and his wife, Hortenca Sheshori, who immigrated together from Italy a decade ago, cut no corners in their 50-seat restaurant, which opened last fall. Sheshori dehydrates the fruit for cocktail garnishes and is the mastermind behind the house-made desserts. Kurti oversees the rest of the menu and even makes the bread fresh daily. Need proof (besides the crusty exterior and soft chew)? Before the restaurant opens every day, passersby can peer in the front window and see straight back to the open kitchen, where Kurti might be kneading the dough for bread baskets and Il Ponte’s elevated pizzas.
Carb lovers will rejoice over yet another type of bread: tender puffs of fried dough that come with the Prosciutto & Burrata Umbrian Style appetizer. This preparation is a staple of Kurti’s native region, and it pairs perfectly with thin slices of high-end prosciutto and a creamy ball of cheese topped with a drizzle of house-made Balsamic reduction.
Throughout the menu, layers of flavors and textures are the work of multiple handmade preparations. All the pasta is crafted in house, from the tagliatelle for the Bolognese to the tortellini in the Tortellini alla Norcina, a traditional Umbrian dish of pasta stuffed with beef, then dressed with a cream sauce and crumbled sausage. It is very delicious and very rich. But don’t worry if you can’t finish it—it will give you something to look forward to, as it’s just as good (if not even better) gently reheated the next day.
Entrées include classics like Chicken Parmesan, alongside regional specialties like Vitello alla Petroniana, eight ounces of veal, pounded thin and pan fried, then topped with black truffles, prosciutto, and Parmigiano Reggiano. The ancient recipe, which features tender meat sourced from local butcher Giovanni Veal, is generously portioned and satisfying, especially accompanied by a bright arugula salad and a squeeze of lemon juice.
A small but thoughtful wine list focuses mainly on Italy, naturally, as does the cocktail list, which leads with classic drinks like Negroni and Aperol Spritz, but also dabbles in tequila-focused libations. A highlight is Kurti’s homemade limoncello, which is smooth and balanced.
Do not skip dessert. Sheshori’s Pistachio Honey Mousse is a feast for all the senses, starting with the beautiful plating. A round of semifreddo (half-frozen) airy mousse, dotted with nuggets of pistachio, stands on its side topped by a tart husk cherry, against a bright scoop of mixed-berry gelato, in luscious pools of crème anglaise, caramel, and just a drop of chocolate. House-made cookies, called brutti ma buoni (which translates as ugly but delicious), are crumbled over the top, adding yet another texture to the complex treat. Donut lovers should order the Bombolone, a house-made donut shell filled with chocolate chip gelato, then gently molded in a special press that warms the casing while keeping the ice cream inside cold. Either one would be a delightful ending to an evening of complex flavors and warm welcomes.
428 Main St, Woburn, 781-933-0408, ilpontew.com