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    LOCAL FARE

    Sam’s Kitchen is a hidden gem in Woburn

    20nodine -- The four, homemade arancini (rice balls), filled with mozzarella and lightly fried, disappear quickly, almost melting in your mouth. (Kathy Shiels Tully)
    Kathy Shiels Tully
    The four, homemade arancini (rice balls), filled with mozzarella and lightly fried, disappear quickly, almost melting in your mouth.

    WHO’S IN CHARGE Sam Azevedo is Brazilian. But consuming one of his many authentic Italian dishes, you might not be so sure.

    “I cooked Italian for 25 years in the North End, basically all my life,” said Azevedo, an Everett resident who owns Sam’s Kitchen in Woburn. The secret isn’t just in the sauce — which some diners told me was the best they’ve ever had — but “That we do really fresh food, homemade to order.”

    Sam’s Kitchen is a family affair. Sam’s wife, Suamy, treats customers like family. On Fridays and Saturdays, their son, Klis, 22, and daughter, Kimberly, 16, join them.

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    THE LOCALE Located in a residential area, you might drive right by the 35-seat restaurant.

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    There is no bar; Sam’s Kitchen is BYOB. Bring your own wine or beer (there’s no uncorking fee), but no hard liquor.

    Suamy’s simple decor lets you focus on friends and food. Walls are painted espresso-brown. Small, dark wooden tables, set with white linen napkins, clear-glass wine goblets, and lit candles, can easily be rearranged for larger parties.

    20nodine -- A side dish of the homemade, ricotta gnocchi is served with the chicken saltimbocca, along with a creamy vodka sauce and broccoli rabe. (Kathy Shiels Tully)
    Kathy Shiels Tully
    A side dish of the homemade ricotta gnocchi is served with the chicken saltimbocca, along with a creamy vodka sauce and broccoli rabe.

    ON THE MENU After finding a hidden gem, have you ever wanted to keep it a secret, hoarding it for yourself?

    That’s how I felt with Sam’s Kitchen.

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    While uncorking our wine — which I brought in a cute wicker basket — we perused the menu. Azevedo likes to “play around,” changing dishes with the seasons to keep customers curious and eager to return to discover what’s new.

    Fresh ciabatta bread arrived at our table, warmed in the oven, made off-site by Central Bakery in Cambridge. Sam brushes the sliced bread lightly with butter, garlic, and seasonings.

    For starters, the fried calamari ($17) tempted, but we chose the arancini ($16). Sam’s homemade tomato sauce covered four large risotto balls filled with fresh mozzarella and were breaded and fried, lending a slight crunch to the soft, melting insides. The antipasto ($15.50), shareable for two, tossed thin slices of salty prosciutto and capicola, creamy mozzarella, and olives atop a plate of mixed greens.

    All the pastas — including ravioli, penne, linguini, and a light gnocchi made with ricotta — are homemade.

    For entrees, we debated about the homemade lobster ravioli ($24) in a cream lobster sauce with seared scallops, sprinkled with salty bits of pancetta, or Osso Bucco ($34), a traditional Italian dish that included a slow-cooked veal shank served with a saffron risotto Milanese.

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    We chose three classics. With each, the meat was thinly sliced, moist and tender. Each dish was served with sauce so good, we wiped our plates clean with the garlic bread: a marinara sauce for the chicken parmigiana ($20), served with fresh penne; a sauce made of garlic, onions, capers, lemon, and white wine bathed the veal piccata ($23), served over ricotta gnocchi that was lighter than the typical potato version; and creamy-sweet vodka sauce covered the chicken saltimbocca ($24), chicken breast stuffed with spinach, prosciutto, and mozzarella cheese, served with broccoli rabe and the delightful ricotta gnocchi.

    Heading out after splitting a tiramisu ($4.50), we bumped into an acquaintance out with friends. Liz raved about her favorite, the Frutti di Mare ($25), a big bowl of shrimp, mussels, tender scallops, and calamari served with homemade linguini in a tomato sauce that “wasn’t too spicy,” per her request.

    We left, full and curious, eager to return, wicker basket in hand, and taste what’s new.

    Sam’s Kitchen, 37 Main St., Woburn. 781-305-3375, samskitchenhomemade.com .

    20nodine -- Share a light antipasto of mixed greens, prosciutto, capicola, fresh mozzerella, and olives before your entree arrives. (Kathy Shiels Tully)
    Kathy Shiels Tully
    Share an antipasto of mixed greens, prosciutto, capicola, fresh mozzerella, and olives before your entree arrives.

    Kathy Shiels Tully can be reached at kathy@kathyshielstully.com.