It's 10 in the morning and I'm already hovering over my Saffron leftovers, devouring the rest of what was a beautiful meal. I'm not one of those wusses who needs to eat fruit and yogurt in the morning--a turkey sandwich is just as good--but even if I was, the addictive nature of Saffron's flavorful, stewy food would have had me bypassing the oatmeal and grapefruit juice to break into the to-go box.
Unlike a lot of Indian restaurants, which seem to have their culinary creations assembled and simmering in the back from the moment they open, Saffron is of the "we don't make it until you order it" school of cooking. Before I decided on the Shrimp Saag (spiced shrimp cooked with spinach) for dinner, the sea creatures sat raw in the fridge, waiting patiently for their journey into my mouth. Saffron doesn't cook the ingredients in your meal until you say "go," which gives the cuisine a fresher, more robust flavor than other Indian food, and makes you slow down and savor each bite, pondering what combination of spices created the amazing flavor.
As an appetizer my companion and I ordered the Vegetable Samosa, hearty turnovers stuffed with peas, potatoes, and an amazing combination of flavors and textures. The turnover crust was heavenly, crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, something like the crust of a perfect calzone. After eating the samosa, despite it being nearly the size of my fist, I was anxious for the rest of the food to arrive.
Next came the creative and zingy Indian salad, a bountiful display of chopped lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, red onions, and coriander leaves bathed in a bright red spicy-sweet sauce. It was refreshing and addictive, sort of like a new-fangled coleslaw, and a welcome break from plain torn lettuce salads served everywhere.
The entrees we ordered were equally compelling. The aforementioned Shrimp Saag had just a tinge of spicy chili pepper heat, and the rich texture of creamed spinach, but without the dairy. The shrimp were huge and fresh, plump surprises swimming around in a huge bowl of steaming spinach. The Tikka Masala with lamb combined tomato, nuts, raisins, and coconut in a rich red sauce that married salty and sweet, evoking the delicious memory of pretzels and ice cream (a long-undervalued combo). The marinated lamb was potently fragrant--almost too fragrant--confusing my tongue with its intensity, but I suspect the flavor is one I'd easily get used to. Saffron's Nan is also of note. Rather than the thin pieces of air-pocketed bread I'm used to, theirs is a pancake-like panel of bread bathed with butter. I can't say it's necessarily better than the Nan I've had elsewhere, but it's equally good.
Saffron uses a huge range of spices in their cooking--turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, mustard seeds, etc. --in combinations that are impossible to decipher. But skill and creativity are how they distinguish themselves. The joy of eating at Saffron isn't trying to steal their melodious sauce recipes for your own, but in relaxing and decimating someone else's beautiful artwork with your ravenous jaws.