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Crepe Expectations

by B.A. Nilsson on February 4, 2010

Chez Daisie
  • Cuisine: crêpes and wraps
  • Entrée price range: $5 (salad) to $8 (roast beef sandwich)
  • Ambiance: intimate

Photo by B.A. Nilsson

Stroll the Jay Street pedestrian mall at lunchtime and you get a taste of what Schenectady could be as an urban destination. Shops beckon with a variety of offerings; Proctors looms ahead. Walk the street on your way to a Proctors event and there’s a similar bustle, heightened by the sense of entertainment anticipation. But this block of Jay Street empties quickly, revealing a different, lonelier profile. It’s the profile we saw early one recent evening. There were no Proctors events that night, which was too bad, as Chez Daisie has been humming each time I’ve walked by en route to the theater. Each time I vowed I’d get back there to sample the crêpes.

I probably picked the wrong night to fulfill this promise. The walk from the car was promising, if strange. The Clinton Street parking lot connects to Jay Street via an alleyway that recently got a decoration of garish neon overhead lights. You expect to find yourself somewhere a-bustle like Bleecker Street. Not this evening.

Even the restaurant itself appeared oddly unwelcoming, which I soon figured out was due to its lack of lights.

It’s a one-man show. Grab a menu on your way in, find yourself a table in the adjoining room, then order at the front-room counter. You’ll pick up your meal at a slide-through window behind which you can watch it assembled. It took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust enough to the gloom to make out the menu’s lettering, which mightn’t have been a problem if a nearby row of wall lights hadn’t been switched off.

A pleasant background of accordion-rich French and French-inspired music was playing, offering an undertone of exoticism. Too bad it had to compete with the pop-tune radio playing in the restaurant’s own kitchen!

My daughter and I watched as a succession of dessert crêpes was prepared and served to an eager family. Strawberries, bananas, crème anglaise, Nutella—it was a toothsome recitation and the finished crêpes looked impressive, even as I silently lamented seeing whipped cream come out of a can.

Our dining strategy, then, would be a savory crêpe apiece and we’d split a sweet one for dessert. Where to start?

Chez Daisie has been open for four years, a unique addition to the city’s eateries, dreamed up by former Montreal resident JoAnne Sifo, who wanted to continue to enjoy a flavor she didn’t wish to leave behind—and to have her own business. An accomplished guitarist, she’s part of the Dyer Switch Band, a bluegrass ensemble with a name that evokes Saratoga railway history. And she’s got this idea that powdered sugar can garnish a ham-and-cheese crêpe, and I like that. This I discovered by ordering a Barcelone ($7.25).

The wrapper is a large crêpe, the creation of which you can observe: Batter is smoothed onto a cylindrical cooktop, flipped, then filled. It has a spongier texture than I was expecting, not unlike Ethiopian injera. The baked ham was nothing more than a sheaf of deli slices, wrapped atop a cold slice of cream cheese with a few thin avocado slices and a modest amount of jalapeño-studded jack cheese. Grapes and some apple slices garnished the dish.

The crêpe itself eased from not-quite-lukewarm into its own resonant chill.

This also characterized the Suisse ($7.25), another deli-ham crêpe, but this time with Swiss cheese and asparagus slices, which got no help from the unpleasant-tasting asparagus. It’s supposed to be topped with Hollandaise, but we really have no right to expect the real thing on a slow night in a cold kitchen. So we regarded the sauce that came out of a squeeze bottle merely as a well-meaning imposter.

This place should be terrific. I’ll bet it is when the customers are flowing and they can afford to turn all the lights on. The menu includes promising-sounding egg- and chicken-based crêpes, as well as many varieties of vegetarian fillings, some of them letting savory and sweet mingle, as in the three-cheese crêpe topped with brown-sugar apples.

And the bonne santée ($7), promising cucumber, avocado and feta with an avocado dressing, sounds perhaps best of all.

More traditional sandwiches are available in crêpes or as wraps, each under $8 apiece (and many of the offerings are available as $5 lunch specials). Chicken with spinach or mushrooms; ham with peppers or cheddar; portobello mushrooms with artichoke hearts; even roast beef with bacon.

The salad selection ($5 each) includes an avocado stuffed with Greek olives, or those olives again tossed with diced chicken breast, or a salad of apples, cucumbers, pecans and dates along with other fruit-intensive combos.

But it’s those $5 dessert crêpes that won’t let you go. Assemble your own from a selection of fruits and fillings, or choose one of the more exotic designs like Oreo caramel (cookies crushed in cream cheese and crème anglaise with caramel in a chocolate crêpe) or the Oreo smash, which adds a peanut butter topping. We went all-chocolate with a so-flavored crêpe filled with Nutella, cream cheese and sweetened pecans, and it made up for the lackluster crêpes that had gone before.

This is very tough time of year for what’s already a tough business, but I suspect that Chez Daisie needs to rededicate itself to what I’m sure it can do well, and offer a more consistent product with a more welcoming feeling. This probably means fighting against Schenectady more often than not, but I think that can be worth it.