What Has Creo’ Created?

Albany’s most talked-about new restaurant settles in. Has it lived up to the hype?

No restaurant in recent memory has opened with the buzz and fanfare that surrounded Creo’s birth this past October. It was a story that had everything: high-powered restaurateurs White Management Corp. Local celeb-chef Andrew Plummer. Prime real estate in Stuyvesant Plaza. And even mass destruction.

Last summer, Capital Region foodies drove down Western Avenue and watched as Mangia, the family-style and very successful White-owned restaurant that had stood on the site for 15 years, was totally demolished to make room for the new building, which the owners said would be one of the first restaurants in the state to qualify for eco-friendly LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) status. Yet another story angle.

The new building was finished in less than four months, during which time the anticipation only grew. The name they chose, Creo’, means “I create” in Latin, and the owners hoped to create something special. This place had big dreams. White Management, which also owns the Butcher Block, Bountiful Bread, two Cold Stone Creamery franchises, and two other Mangia locations, lured executive chef Andrew Plummer and general manager Paul McCullough to the suburbs from McGuire’s, their high-end, much revered restaurant downtown. In partnership, they promised both to meet the needs of family diners who had enjoyed Mangia’s above-average, fairly priced fare and the expectations of Plummer’s fans, who have followed him from Allegro Café to McGuire’s for some of the best cooking in the area.

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They decided that new construction was smarter than renovating the half-century-old structure (which had housed a Howard Johnson’s back in Stuyvesant Plaza’s pre-glitzy days). The construction budget, which was around $2 million, included high-efficiency windows, a grass roof, recycled-cork floors in the bar, and a recycled-rubber floor across the front of the expansive open kitchen.

Big dreams indeed. Now, six months after opening, have those dreams been realized?



Creo’ crabcakesCreo’s crabcakes get some zing from the accompanying chipotle lime tartar sauce

Let’s start with the space. It’s lovely, with a contemporary-slash-Asian feel that matches the menu. And it is energy-efficient. Although as we go to press the site hadn’t yet received official LEED status (that’s due this summer, says Mark Burgasser, vice president of operations for White Management), the new construction has helped reduce the restaurant’s carbon footprint. “I can tell our utility costs are substantially cheaper than they were with Mangia,” Burgasser says, guessing that his gas, electric, and water bills are about 15 percent lower. Most of those savings come from the HVAC and refrigeration equipment, some of it specially ordered from Europe, and the waterless urinals and hands-free sinks, which he says save about 5,000 gallons of water a year.

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“We are also adding an herb and tomato garden and will buy as much locally as we can,” Burgasser says, to further their green commitment.

Environmentally friendly? Check.

Now, the food. Reviews, both word-of-mouth and in the blogosphere, have been mixed from the start. On a sunny Wednesday, I took my family for our first visit. Curly-Haired Companion (she’s always wanted to be called that in a restaurant review), Little Cupcake, and I arrived early — it was a school night — but we were far from the only patrons in the 144-seat restaurant. (By the time we left around 7 p.m., it was nearly full, a very nice sign of health.) Before we had even unrolled our napkins, our server, Latoya, offered Cupcake a package of markers and coloring activities. And when CHC and Cupcake wandered over to look into the kitchen, GM McCullough (not knowing we were there on assignment) took them on a tour and introduced them to the cooks by name.

Family–friendly? Check.


The menu does offer both quick and economical noshes, such as wood-fired pizza, and more adventuresome culinary treats. We wanted dinner, so we first checked the wine list. It’s comprehensive but not overwhelming, with names both familiar — Jordan, Rodney Strong, et al. — and new, to us anyway. I went with the former, a Dr. Konstantin Frank semi-dry Riesling, which never fails. CHC opted for the latter, a Nobilo Sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, which she loved — crisp, acidic and flinty, just how she likes it. Wine prices are reasonable; glasses run from $8 to $12, bottles are mostly in the $23 to $40 range, with a dozen or so more expensive reserves to choose from. Cupcake sampled the lemonade, which she found sublime, with strong citrus notes and a sugary finish. (She’s a very precocious second-grader.)

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With choices such as grilled polenta with wild mushrooms, lobster and crab dumplings, and chipotle-glazed rotisserie chicken quesadillas, we had a tough time picking starters. CHC chose salt and pepper calamari with kung pao sauce, and was glad she did. The calamari were perfectly battered and fried, crisp on the outside and tender within, and well-peppered for an explosive contrast with the sweetness of the sauce. Simply outstanding. I picked the fried oysters, which were also superb, plump and oceanic and served with a habañero tartar sauce, which was less spicy than I had expected (and would have liked), but still wonderful. This was foodie food.

The rest of the meal, however, was closer to family-style fare. Our salads were very good, mind you. CHC’s Creo’ wedge with bacon, tomatoes, almonds, and Roquefort was fresh and tasty, but overladen with almonds. My Caesar with shaved Parmigiano and large, salty anchovies was also quite nice. But with Plummer, you expect more than just nice.

And that might be the problem. Our expectations were perhaps too high, and extended to our entrées as well. We chose to get three small plates (many of the entrées can be ordered in still-substantial appetizer sizes), and each was more Mangia than McGuire’s. The fresh tagliatelle with caramelized onions, wild mushrooms, and truffle oil was tasty but drowning in oil. The lobster risotto had large chunks of claw meat, but the risotto itself — and the lobster cream sauce surrounding it — did not elicit the oh-my-God response that truly decadent risotto can inspire. And the veal and wild mushroom meatloaf tasted mostly of mushroom and rarely of veal, leaving it rather soft. The sides, though, were all excellent. Mashed Yukon gold potatoes were topped with puréed sweet potatoes — something new and delightful — and haricot verts with black sesame seeds were crunchy and flavorful.

For dessert, Latoya recommended the bread pudding. “It’s the favorite of all the servers, so you know it’s good,” she said. And it was. Made with bread baked by Creo’s sister company, Bountiful Bread; topped with berries; and served with homemade cinnamon ice cream, it ended the meal on a happy note.

So, what has Creo’ created? Well, it’s not McGuire’s. With a per-person average check of $35-$40, it really can’t be. But if you know that going in, you’ll have a very nice experience. It is quite pretty; the food is always good — and often great; the service is top-notch; and the prices are fair. It’s also successful, which says a lot in this economic climate. “We’re thrilled,” says Burgasser, noting that Creo’ is doing about 3,500 covers a week. “We’re reaching all kinds of customers — college students coming in for pizza and a glass of wine, families, serious eaters.” Just as they had dreamed.

Creo’ Restaurant
â–º 1475 Western Ave. (Stuyvesant Plaza), Albany
518-482-8000 or www.creorestaurant.com
Open Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat. noon-11 p.m., Sun. noon-9 p.m.
Dinner entrées range from $19-$34; appetizers $7-$16; salads $8-$13; pastas $16-$19; pizzas $11-$14


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