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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Contemporary Classics

By B.A. Nilsson

Creo’

Stuyvesant Plaza, 1475 Western Ave., Albany, 482-8000. Serving Mon-Fri 11:30-10, Sat noon-11, Sun noon-9. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Mediterraneanishly American

Entrée price range: $11 (five cheese pizza) to $33 (Chilean sea bass)

Ambiance: handsomely comfortable

By the time your plate is presented, you’ve already journeyed a comfortable and considerable distance from your arrival point. Let’s say you head to Creo’, the handsome new Stuyvesant Plaza restaurant, for dinner after a day of work and the subsequent challenge of getting your family together for the visit.

If you’re at all like me, you’re blotting paper, absorbing the mix of happiness and tension that constitutes a given day. Where I grew up—snooty suburban Connecticut—the major remedy was cocktails, and by cocktails I mean journeyman boozing. I find the wine-with-dinner approach to be more salubrious.

Creo’ greets you with an attractively featured building, its earth-toned exterior colors traveling alongside you as you pause at the busy bar, with its mutely lighted top and artful array of bottles and glassware. Behind it all is an impressively eco-friendly facility, using recycled material and making creative use of such new techniques as a grass roof.

You can dine there, or alongside the bar, or in the large dining room, itself segmented without losing its attractive airiness. Conversation in that room is easy to follow; we learned later that the acoustics were an important consideration.

Creo’ is the brainchild of David R. White, who owns several area restaurants (including nearby Bountiful Bread, which supplies the same to Creo’) and Mark A. Burgasser, and they were shrewd enough to enlist chef Andrew Plummer and general manager Paul McCullough, both of whom were most recently at McGuire’s in downtown Albany.

They’ve designed the place—physically and in the hospitality realm—to ease you out of your world and into theirs. And theirs is a very nice place to be. You lose yourself in the pleasant service, the easygoing attention, and you’re invited to create a meal as small or as extensive as you like.

As is becoming happily common, the terms “appetizers” and “entrées” appear nowhere on the menu. It’s divided by plate size or preparation style, giving you freedom to design a dinner of whatever size works at the moment. Having said which, my family determinedly ordered according to the appetizer-entrée paradigm.

Small plates include bruschetta with tapenade ($7), homemade (and gorgeously browned) potato chips with blue cheese ($9), calamari with kung pao sauce ($11), Thai steamed mussels ($13) and fried oysters with habanero tartar sauce ($14).

All of which gives you a clue to Plummer’s culinary approach. Nothing unusual about the main ingredients; it’s the co-stars that are different, and the production itself often is translated from another language.

Take the chicken quesadilla ($10). It’s traditional bar fare, but flavor-enhanced with a cooking technique: The chicken is rotisserie grilled, giving the meat a richer flavor, and the assembly is enhanced with chipotle, the wonderfully pungent smoked jalapeno peppers. There’s nothing unusual about the look of the item, but tasting it is like discovering a Porsche engine in your old Beetle.

Likewise the chicken soup ($5). Chicken soup! The name conjures childhood recollections of that awful Campbell’s product, splotched into a saucepan and hastily heated—but the Creo’ version messes around with those memories, reviving your palate even as it replaces years of mental mediocre soup accretions. Nothing special here that I could discern except for the fresh, for-real ingredients—and a dandy addition of asiago-based gnocchi-like dumplings.

Salads are à la carte, and many of them are available in two sizes: Thus, the chopped vegetable salad comes in $7 and $12 varieties, the Caesar in $6 and $10. This is a welcome option, easing the process of designing your meal, and the versatility spreads into the pasta, rotisserie and “big plates” menu sections, where selected items also are two-tier priced.

We sampled a chop salad, which surrounded iceberg lettuce with grilled eggplant and zucchini and included a sprinkling of cashews in a thick, sweet balsamic vinaigrette.

Wood-fired pizzas are a selling point here, and while I absolutely couldn’t imagine tucking into one in the context of the meal I anticipated, I what-the-hell’d my way into a five-cheese pizza ($11), a personal-sized portion on a thin crust also topped with tomatoes and basil. And I didn’t regret it at all. Other varieties are offered, ranging from a spinach and feta combo ($12) to a pie with spicy chicken sausage and fontinella ($14).

Rotisserie-cooked meats include chicken, pork, a rib eye of beef and lamb in appealing preparations ($12-$29). In the “big plates” section are classics like grilled sirloin with a roasted garlic demi-glace ($23) and roasted duck with orange-pomegranate sauce ($24). Slightly more exotic are panko-crusted ahi tuna ($27) and Chilean sea bass in a soy sesame butter ($33).

But I went ultra traditional with the meat loaf, a small portion of which is $13 and was satisfying enough to make me wonder how much you get for the $19 size. Veal and wild mushrooms figure into the blend, and the meat was firm, rich and exceptionally tasty, set off with a light sauce and excellent mashed potatoes. The plate was a delight to behold, garnished with crisp vegetables, including string beans.

Thai marinated grilled salmon ($23) turns out to be glazed and tender, perched atop crisp noodles, finished with the sweet-sharp punch of a hoisin wasabi vinaigrette. And we checked out one of the specials, per our server’s recommendation, and found the pan-seared diver scallops crusted with sesame seeds to be a showcase of this kind of dish, the seafood intensely flavored, the starch a serving of purple (or “forbidden”) rice.

While my daughter went nuts over a dessert of homemade mud pie ($8, and it may be getting near time to disown her), my wife and I shared a dignified serving of homemade sorbet ($7), choosing a scoop apiece of blood orange and pomegranate- red-wine flavors.

It’s a top-of-the-line dining experience here, thankfully raising the Capital Region’s culinary bar, and I expect that the success this restaurant already has enjoyed will only continue.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

A Dessert Spectacular to benefit the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley will take place from 5:30 to 8:30 PM on April 21, featuring desserts from some of the finest area restaurants and bakeries, hors d’oeuvres by Franklin Plaza, a cash bar, a silent auction and music by jazz pianist Neal Brown. The event takes place at Franklin Plaza Ballroom, 4 Fourth St., Troy, and costs $35 in advance and $50 at the door. Reservations: 272-0701. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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