vico200From The Albany Times Union, September 17, 2006
By WILLIAM M. DOWD, Associate editor

First there was the introduction of a bit of Norway into Hudson’s eclectic dining scene. Now, in the same space, there is a bit of Tuscany, and it is a good thing.

Partners Mark Ganem, the chef, and Adam Klersfeld, the manager, established Vico restaurant and bar several months ago to “bring the warmth of Italian hospitality and the bounty of the Hudson Valley to Warren Street.”

Ganem trained and worked in Italy, near Florence, honing a cooking style that is, to say the least, adventuresome. How many chefs in the greater Capital Region are bold enough to offer such toothsome specials as pasta with wild boar ragu flavored with bitter chocolate?

Vico, “village” in the Tuscan dialect, succeeded Bolgen & Moi, a Norwegian restaurant that closed after a two-year run. The architecture of the establishment remains the same — a narrow, inviting bar area with tables, a small first dining room, then down two steps to a wider dining room complete with a rustic-style fireplace and some banquette seating. A jumble of modern and abstract art decorates brightly-colored walls. Fair-weather tables on a tiny deck and in an enclosed courtyard are at the rear.

Ganem has embraced the ever-growing push among many area chefs to make use of locally grown, seasonal ingredients in uncomplicated but sometimes-surprising recipes.

However, he doesn’t ignore some of the better imports to go with them — New Zealand greenlip mussels, organic Scottish salmon, saffron and Parmigiano-Reggiano among them. The latter is too often taken for granted in American kitchens, confused with Parmesan cheese. The difference is in the depth of flavor derived from the Parmigiano-Reggiano, a raw cow’s milk cheese named after the producing areas of Parma and Reggio Emilia, Italy. “Parmesan,” much milder and with less body, refers to lesser cheeses resembling it but not made in the area.

A bowl of the grated cheese was the first thing delivered to our table, quickly followed by a basket of airy-light, thick-crusted bread and some good olive oil. As we sipped a pair of Maker’s Mark Manhattans — a pricey $10 each, but perfectly made — we had trouble narrowing down our selections. Luckily, our waitress Lisbeth, a veteran of Bolgen & Moi, suggested trying one of the entrees in appetizer size.

I did so with the Alba pasta dish, one that quickly led me to an appreciation of Ganem’s touch. He tossed bits of sauteed salmon, asparagus and shallots with tender, house-made pasta in a light cream sauce, turning such normally mild and innocuous elements into a rich, pleasing starter that told me my palate was in good hands.

Constant Companion was just as pleased with the prosciutto and melon, particularly the uncommon leanness of the dried ham that enhanced the contrast with the slightly sweet melon and a balsamic vinegar reduction with a concentrated flavor hinting of wild berries.

We happily moved on to our entrees, hers a bowl of tender linguine with fresh, plump figs and more of the prosciutto in a light cream sauce. Lots of flavor and contrasts. My tilapia dish was a pair of tender fish fillets topped with fresh sage leaves, wrapped in the ever-present prosciutto, sauteed and served over a mix of braised rainbow chard, shallots and zucchini, a good mixture of tart and sweet although the chard needed to be cleaned more carefully.

Throughout our main course we snacked from a shared basket of “Tuscan fries” from the per la tavola (for the table) list: filling but tasty fresh-cut potatoes seasoned with rosemary, sage and a bit of cayenne, then fried to a deep brown. I made a note to try a basket with cocktails as a bar snack next time I visit the surrounding Warren Street antiques shops.

Decaf cappuccino and desserts from pastry chef Jenny Lee Osnato were a satisfying finish: torta di seta, a ball of rich cheesecake topped with chocolate mousse and chocolate ganache, and a mix of blueberries and strawberries topped with Tahitian vanilla gelato.

Our bill for this fine repast was, before tip but with drinks, $106.

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