Nearly 19 years ago, Samir Hrichi was working at his Midtown Kingston pizza place, Sami’s, on a Friday night. He had owned Sami’s for four years, but dreamed of having his own restaurant. “I wanted to cook, but people mostly wanted pizza,” says the Culinary Institute of America-trained chef, who was 28 years old at the time. On that June evening, a realtor came in and told Hrichi that the owner of the Ship to Shore restaurant in Kingston’s Rondout wanted to sell. “I threw down my apron, went right downtown and I bought it that night.”
Hrichi was already living in the Rondout, and there were only three restaurants there back then: Mary P’s (which went out of business in 1999 and resurfaced as Mariner’s Harbor two years after Hrichi bought Ship to Shore); Rosita’s, which went under after a relocation; and Ship to Shore, a three-decades-old establishment that was really more of a bar than a restaurant.
“It was a dump,” Hrichi says bluntly, “and it wasn’t making a lot of money.” He borrowed money and put the rest on credit cards to fund the purchase and do some initial remodeling. “I worked day and night. I would make pizza all day, and then put on my whites and go to Ship to Shore to cook all night. I kept the name and changed the menu.” In 2000, he sold his pizza place and focused his culinary and business talents on Ship to Shore, as a restaurant and as a catering service for boutique weddings and other events. “Sami’s was my learning curve, and it was very successful.”
Today, Hrichi is a divorced father of three and, with five chefs working under him, he has transformed Ship to Shore into one of the Kingston waterfront’s busiest and tastiest restaurants. At the end of 2013, he did an extensive remodeling. “It’s a small restaurant, and with a high volume of traffic, the place takes a beating. I put in a new kitchen, and new tables, chairs and bar. That was a big project. The Rondout is growing, and now I’m the old restaurant,” he laughs. “There’s a lot of activity here in Kingston. I see opportunities in Rhinebeck, New Paltz and Woodstock, but I’ve always liked the Rondout. It’s my niche, and I’m content with that.”
Hrichi started cooking when he was just six or seven years old, and never left the kitchen. Originally from New York City, he and his family began coming up to Esopus during the summertime and eventually moved up here. “My parents are immigrants – my father is Moroccan and my mother is Latvian – so there were always lots of interesting foods when I was growing up,” he says. On weekends and during the summer, he washed dishes at the Hedges (now Stonehedge) in West Park and another restaurant in Highland. “After graduating from the CIA, I moved back to the City to build my résumé. But when I started popping up to visit family on weekends, I realized as an adult how beautiful the Hudson Valley is, and that I preferred living in the country over the City.”
More people are gravitating these days to buying local foods and eating farm-to-table, Hrichi acknowledges. “It’s such a trendy thing now, but I’ve always tried to do it that way,” he says. “To me now, sustainable food is so important. People come to us for protein, but I’m trying to have a more plant-based diet, personally as well as on the menu. Vegetables, salads, kales – all of those sell well as appetizers and starters. Everything is cooked to order, so there are plenty of options.”
This seafood/American bistro restaurant and Old New York-style steakhouse is known for “great food, great wine and great service,” says Hrichi. His signature dish – Yellowfin Tuna Stack – is a classic. “It appeals to hipsters and people in their 80s; it’s a go-to meal. But it’s another hardcore protein, and not the best fish for you,” he says. “I love fish, and our Pan-Seared Branzino – a red sea bass that’s smaller and bonier – with braised kale, ceci beans, kalamata olives and grilled lemon is one of my favorites, along with the Moroccan-style foods I grew up eating. I love lots of vegetables and spices like cumin and coriander, but they’re tricky to implement. With daily specials, I can have a little more fun and experiment by utilizing different foods.”
An avid traveler, Hrichi has taste-tested every continent except Antarctica, and Ship to Shore’s menu reflects his culinary discoveries. He has been to Thailand twice, and two years ago spent much of the trip eating street food: simple bowls of noodles made with lots of vegetables, fish stock, ginger, garlic, scallions, fish or soy sauce and Pak Boong (commonly called “swamp cabbage”). “It’s a cross between bok choi and kale, and I was eating vegetables and noodles, sometimes fish, every day. When I came back, I started messing around with noodles – udon, soba, others,” he says, and the Crispy Chicken Udon Noodle Bowl now on his regular menu grew out of that. “Specials depend on my mood – if I’m in a Moroccan mood, a noodle mood – and they change every day.”
In addition to daily specials, he has instituted Burger & Brew Monday (burger and three beers for $25), Wine-Lover’s Wednesday (selections of half-price bottles of wine), TBT (Throwback Thursday: menu favorites from the past) and Sunday Brunch.
People come into Ship to Shore for their favorites, and Hrichi’s three young kids are no exception. “One of my daughters loves the New Zealand Lamb Lollipops and the Just Simple Steamed Clams, and my other daughter wants pasta, pasta, pasta. My son loves the mac and cheese – and we make seafood/lobster and classic versions,” he says.
When he’s not working, Hrichi is really involved with his children – including, of course, cooking for them, but also volunteer-cooking at their schools so he can spend more time with them – and he likes to fish, hike, play golf, garden and, in the winter months when things slow down a bit, travel. “I also consult with people who are opening a restaurant and help them with creating menus and concepts, and really enjoy that. Ten years from now, Ship to Shore will be better and better. I’m not leaving; it’s my home.”
“This is a small town and a lot of my business comes from word-of-mouth,” Hrichi says. “My regulars are my bread-and-butter; but two years ago, about 40 percent of my customers were new. There are a lot of young people moving to the area from Brooklyn. I’m always going out to eat, and there are a lot of new chefs,” he adds, tipping his chef’s hat to Uptown Kingston and some favorite spots in New York City, including Balthazar, a French bistro on Spring Street in Manhattan. “That’s my spot. And, there’s a Korean joint in Queens. And a deli that has my favorite knish… As I’m getting older, I notice that the staples stick to their guns. I’m producing my style, and it’s pretty diverse.”
HOT TIP: The Ship to Shore annual Holiday Gift Card will be available at 5 p.m. on Friday, December 16. For $60, you can purchase a $100 gift card that’s good for one year. Cash only is accepted, and you must pick it up in person. “I like giving back to my customers and my locals,” Hrichi says. Get there early; there’s often a line, and he only sells 1,000 of them each year.
Ship to Shore, located at 15 West Strand in Kingston, is open daily. Hours are Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner from 3 to 10 p.m.). For more information about the restaurant or catering, visit www.shiptoshorehudsonvalley.com or https://bit.ly/2g8qfR7 or call (845) 334-8887.
Samir’s New Zealand
Lamb Lollipops (his daughter’s favorite)
4 New Zealand lamb chops
chopped garlic to taste
2 sprigs of thyme
salt & pepper to taste
8 oz. green kale (chopped)
handful of garbanzo beans
splash of white wine
splash of chicken stock
1 tablespoon of butter
heat olive oil in sauté pan
simply bread lamb chops
sauté lamb chops until golden-brown
add garbanzo beans
deglaze with white wine
add chicken stock
cook until medium-rare
“Keep it simple”