We’re Just Wild About Saffron (a NYC Indian Restaurant)
By John Dunham with Alison Blackman
“I’m just mad about Saffron. Saffron’s mad about me. I’m just mad about Saffron, she’s just mad about me. They call me mellow yellow. “
So began the very odd 1966 classic Mellow Yellow, written and recorded by Donovan Philips Leitch.
Saffron and yellow isn’t what most New Yorker’s generally think of when they imagine Indian restaurants, and maybe not “mellow,” either. Every neighborhood in the City has its own red-walled Indian eatery where waiters in black three piece suits (sans jackets) bring standard Indian fare.
Saffron Indian Cuisine, located at 320 Columbus Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, is quite different. The restaurant actually is mellow, with large windows looking out onto the Street. It’s not yellow, but the sunlight streams in nicely. The restaurant is owned and operated by Raju Brahmbhatt, who greeted us on a press visit. Mr. Brahmbhatt explained that Indian cuisine is a lot more than tandoori chicken and Tikka Masalla, but rather that the subcontinent is very diverse in its culinary traditions. His goal with Saffron was to showcase dishes from all over India, including from Punjab (known for such dishes as saag and gulab jamun ), Gujarat (noted for its vegetarian dishes) Rajasthan (known for curries), Goa (seafood with Portuguese influences) and Tamil Nadu(home to many of India’s lentil based dishes).
Our tasting consisted of 14 different dishes, all quite different in style. We began our “tour of India” with three appetizers, the first of which was a ginger tikka, which was a boneless chicken served on a sizzling platter. The most and plentiful chunks of chicken were served with fresh, crisp vegetables and a hint of ginger, giving it a light healthy character. This is a Punjabi dish, and the term tikka refers to the chunks of meat used in the dish.
This was followed by a dish called Shrimp Balchau, from the Goa region. This was presented with mixed greens and root vegetables. The shrimp was cooked in a chili sauce that reminded me of a New Orleans piquant and was quite pleasant even though the dish was not a generously portioned as the tikka.
The third appetizer was called Lasuni Gobi, a fried cauliflower dish in a tomato based garlic sauce. This dish is from Punjab and even though I personally do not prefer cauliflower, it was a beautiful dish that everyone at the table enjoyed.
Indian food is not complete without a selection of breads, and we were served three. The classic puffy poori bread, a garlic naan and an excellent soft bread with onions called onion kulcha.
Onward we moved as we ate our way across the entire subcontinent. The first of the main courses was a tandoori salmon dish called Fish Tikka Jalfrezi. The salmon was fresh, sweet and smokey, served in big chunks on a skewer. The sauce was tomato based with onions and bell peppers. Tandoor cooking is a traditional aspect of Punjabi cuisine, and this dish was fantastic.
The fish was followed by Lamb Hara Masala, which consisted of lamb cooked in a tangy sauce with coriander, green chilies and mint. This is a popular Zoroastrian dish from the Gujarat and Sindh areas. While the lamb served at our table was a bit on the well done side, the sauce was quite unique and we will try this again on our next visit.
No Indian meal would be complete without some form of saag, and the Palak Paneer was tight on target. This is a Punjabi dish of soft cheese cubes cooked in a smooth spinach curry. It was smoky and the cheese gave the saag some texture.
All of the dishes were paired with wine (though not Indian wine which is actually quite unique), and if wine isn’t to your liking, Saffron also has a full bar.
We finished the meal with an indian ice cream compo with a neopolitan ice cream featuring pistachio, cherry and banana. Served with a slice of pound cake this is a great way to finish a meal. Otherwise the Gulab Jamin, India’s version of fried dough, with honey, cumin and coriander spices is a great desert.
In addition, to its regular menu, saffron features a 15 course brunch every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, for only $14.95 per person, showcasing many of these amazing dishes. The restaurant is located at 320 Columbus Avenue and is open for lunch and differ seven days a week. If you live in New York City and want to try something a little different, or you’re visiting, Saffron may be the next place you’re “wild” for!
For more information visit www.saffronny.com.