ALBANY — If you like sweets, no doubt you’ve heard fabulous things about Crisan Bakery, which opened last April on Lark Street. As my dining companion Virginia and I found, it lives up to its hype. It’s amazing.
Spotless, white and Euro-sleek, its simple design is a foil for the elaborate pastries and colorful gelato. It’s in a storefront next to the old Larkin restaurant, with an awning and some dainty tables and chairs outside. The plate glass window is framed by a swath of luminous taffeta that, Virginia said, was “draped and poufed just so.”
Crisan Bakery and Edible Art Gallery
WHERE: 197 Lark St., Albany. Phone 445-2727.
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays
HOW MUCH: $16.75
MORE INFO: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover. Not wheelchair accessible.
If you’re planning to stay, you should know beforehand that there are only three tables inside, but it’s worth waiting for a seat so you can enjoy your pastries on the gold-rimmed china plates.
You’ll see the gelato case, with a dozen gorgeous flavors, and just beyond, the glass cases holding the cakes and flaky pastries. If you like desserts, then Crisan is a must-visit for you. You will be drawn as if by invisible forces to the cakes, stooping slightly to take in the bottom row.
One of the nicest things about visiting Crisan is that anyone can afford it. For just a few bucks, you can get an intricately made, painstakingly perfect dessert. The gelato is the buy of the century. Even if you’re on a tight budget (and who isn’t?), for just a buck you can sit in their stylish store and savor your neat scoop of gelato served in martini glass with a delightfully designed spoon. You can even pretend you’re in Italy.
We agonized over the treats and settled on three. Virginia ordered coffee ($1.25) and I asked about hot chocolate. At Crisan, you get real chocolate and real cream, which you can take as a “chocolate shot” or add some steamed milk to make a hot drink ($3.25). We divided the pastries in half and settled in to eat.
Our treats were a marvel of baking, assembled expertly with premium ingredients. The Madalina ($4.25), topped with a whole hazelnut, has chocolate and nutty cake layers with frosting between. Its thick hazelnut ganache is to die for.
The chocolate ganache that coats the Amandine ($2.50), is topped with sliced almonds. The layers are chocolate cake, and the chocolate icing between them might be flavored with liqueur, but it melts away quickly, leaving only its essence behind. This was too sweet for me, but for Virginia, it was just right.
They really impressed me with the pumpkin tart ($3.50). I’ve never seen tart pastry so thin before, so that the filling is truly the focus of the tart, and their pumpkin filling is Thanksgiving-perfect. It’s decorated with intricately cut leaves and topped with a squiggle of vanilla icing dusted with ground cloves.
The coffee was hot and a bit strong for Virginia, who likes it mild, but there were several kinds of milk nearby and little packets of half-and-half. The chocolate drink ($3.25) was dessert in itself; it was pleasantly creamy with a strong, satisfying chocolate flavor. I would have liked it hotter.
The bits of pastry I dissected were left on my plate. This was too much dessert for me, and I had no more than a taste of each. But we had room for gelato.
Virginia recommends the biscotti and eggnog varieties, while I favor the raspberry. We enjoyed our scoops ($1), elegantly served in tall glasses, and I paused to examine the spoon. While dainty, it had a round, deep bowl to cradle the gelato in a way that brought focus to its texture and flavor, and made me see how the design of the elements supporting the food can enhance it.
The tab came to $16.75, much less than an airline ticket to Italy.
Not only does Crisan make great stuff, but they do it with style.