The day I visited Vico was uncharacteristic of Hudson in July – wet, cold, and dreary. It was, in fact, the perfect weather to burrow into this cozy Italian eatery on the corner of Warren and North 2nd Streets.
With its warm primary color scheme and series of intimate dining rooms, Vico warms you up right as you walk in the door. The restaurant is at once homey and modern, quaint and quintessentially New York. The art on the walls, provided by a family friend, is a series of splashy abstracts that mirror the profusion of flowers on the outdoor terrace.
Inspired by the time he spent cooking in Tuscany, Chef Ganem curates the menu like a country oste. The descriptions offer gentle suggestions of what to eat with what, and give a little history as to each dish’s provenance. His food is simple and emphatic, built on the backbone of local agriculture and faithful to the seasons. He starts me with a trio of handmade crostata, the star of which is a meaty tapenade dusted with Pecorino Romano. A delicate cucumber salad is enlivened by cured black olives and watermelon enliven the otherwise delicate cucumber salad, sharpening the influence of basil and playing up against each other for a balance of juicy sweetness and briny umame.
Handmade cheese is the standout feature of Vico’s pasta dishes: a sweet, intensely pure mozzarella drizzled in a peppery olive oil with penne and tomatoes; a sharp ricotta salata mixed with hand rolled twists of semolina and a blistering pesto made from the last of the season’s ramps.
True to his training, Chef Ganem is renowned for the simple, hearty main courses that anchor Tuscan cooking: eggplant parmigiana with homemade marinara, herb-rubbed rack of lamb, Florentine Porterhouse steak dredged in olive oil and finished with rosemary sea salt. The special was a costoletta alls Milanese – a rib of locally raised pork, cut lengthwise and pounded thin like a veal chop. The plate-sized portion was encrusted with a thin but oily crust and piled with local baby arugula and more cherry tomatoes laced with lemon-champagne vinaigrette. A basket of shoestring French fries – done in a technique taught to Chef Ganem by his mentor, Cesare Casella – came garnished with fried sprigs of rosemary and oregano.
By now the sun was breaking through the downpour, warming me at my window-side table, and the only thing that could keep me from putting my head between my arms and falling asleep right there was a steaming cappuccino, accompanied by a round of French macaroons.
Chelsea Batten is an itinerant journalist and photographer.