By ANN GIBBONS, Freeman staff
A former confectionery is about as far away from Tuscany as it is from the moon, but the Italian-inspired menu that has supplanted the sweet shop brings fresh Mediterranean flavors right to the table.
“The menu is Tuscan inspired — with a French influence,” said Mark Ganem, chef and co-owner of Vico restaurant & bar on Warren Street in Hudson. He and his partner, Adam Klersfeld, moved to Columbia County in 2000 and opened the restaurant in 2006.
“We were fortunate in finding this location,” Klersfeld said. “We were able to move right in and open in two months.”
Ganem said the best translation of “vico” is “village,” based loosely on the town Vico d’Elsa or village on the D’Elsa River.
“And, here we are, a community on the Hudson River,” Ganem said.
Added Klersfeld, “We selected Hudson because we saw the antique, arts and street revival of the city.”
Klersfeld added that he and Ganem found Hudson to be business friendly and welcoming to new businesses. He also said they are members of the Below Third organization of shop, restaurant and gallery owners who coordinate openings four or five times a year.
“Below Third is a wonderful organization that gets things done,” he said.
Every September, Below Third sponsors A Taste of Hudson, from late morning to early afternoon that’s open to the public.
Said Ganem, “Last year, about 10,000 people crowded the streets here. We usually sell out of everything, but it’s great for Hudson and for us to have new people sample our foods.”
After Don’s Confectionery on the corner of Warren and Second street, closed in the late 1990s, new owners took over the site and converted the building into a restaurant. Ganem and Klersfeld succeeded them.
Ganem, of Italian and Lebanese descent, attended the French Culinary Institute in Paris for restaurant management, but said his mother was an excellent home cook, so both influences tug at him in the open kitchen at Vico.
Ganem added that he he spent time cooking in France. Even there, however, the infusion of Italian flavors can be discerned.
“Catherine de Medici brought béchamel sauce to French cuisine,” he said.
Ganem keeps the flavors modern and light, he said, but every item starts the way all Italian cuisine begins. “It’s not magic. Simple preparation, but exquisitely fresh and predominately local,” he said. “We’ve established relationships with local farmers and purveyors, so our meats, poultry and produce are always fresh.”
The restaurant has a core menu, according to Ganem, with eight to 10 weekly specials, depending on the season.
“The centerpiece of our winter menu is wild boar lasagna,” he said. (See the recipe).
Said Klersfeld, “Our regular customers really look forward to that during the winter. It’s rich, hearty and filling.”
Ganem said he and Klersfeld are eagerly awaiting spring. “We have a secret place where we forage for ramps,” he said, which becomes a central ingredient in Vico’s Spring Risotto.
Ganem said he makes the restaurant’s signature foccacia, and all desserts are fresh and homemade. Despite a busy kitchen, he added, his reward is seeing how much customers enjoy the food.
“It’s simple fare, but looks great, tastes really good and fills people up,” Ganem said. “When I know something is cooked to perfection and it’s just right, it’s great!”
Klersfeld is the first face Vico diners see, because he works the front of the house.
“Well, I like people and want them to be comfortable, relax and let the stress of the day or the week seep away,” he said. “We get a lot of families and friends meeting up with friends for an afternoon of good food and companionship. They get away and spend a couple of hours here.”
Ganem, working in the open kitchen, said he can hear belly laughs coming from the dining room.
“There is a group of friends from Long Island who come here and spend hours together, just eating and getting away for a while,” he said.
Klersfeld said the menu, weekly specials and other information can be found on the website, www.vicorestaurant.com, where reservations can also be made.
“We keep the website updated and also link up to gallery openings and other events of interest to customers can be found there,” Klersfeld said.
Vico restaurant & bar is located at 136 Warren St. at the corner of Second Street in Hudson. Hours are Monday and Thursday from 5 to 8:30 p.m., Friday from 5 to 9 p.m., Saturday from 3 to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 3 to 8:30 p.m. Lunch is served Saturday and Sunday from noon to 3 p.m.
In addition to the website, information is available by calling (518) 828-6529.