By Denise Mattia
There’s a diversity of cuisines in New York City, and restaurant hounds have a nose for the good ones. If a craving for Indian food calls, there are a plethora of restaurants from which to choose. We found Saffron on the Upper West Side of Manhattan stellar.
Raju Brahmbhatt the owner/manager is on hand at the restaurant to answer questions. Originally from Ahmedabad, India, Brahmbhatt learned the art of Indian cooking from his grandfather. He and his son, Khevin, have teamed up to bring their knowledge of fine dining to the Upper West Side.
Brahmbhatt isn’t new to the restaurant business. He’s a 20-year successful owner of Indian restaurants in New York, New Jersey and Florida. At Saffron on the Upper West Side, the team, including their headwaiter, Kailash, enjoys bringing specialties for which each diverse region in India is noted. They can explain in depth the spices, herbs, vegetables, meat and fruit used in them.
“At Saffron, we showcase dishes from such areas as Punjab in the north, Gujarat and Rajasthan in the west, the coastal sections in Goa and Tamil Nadu in the south,” said Brahmbhatt. The menu is a veritable tour of India.
The dinner started with poppadums, crispy thin lentil wafers seasoned with cumin and black pepper. We broke off small wedges and spooned on a typical tamarind sauce and an extraordinary ginger, cilantro and lemon mint sauce.
My colleagues and I ordered several of the little green sauces, which we spooned onto the soft garlic naan and nearly everything else that followed.
I thought a rule of thumb is no more than five spices in a recipe. Still, to make the classic succulent Goan shrimp balcaho that rule is out, because spices too innumerable to list are used to create Saffron’s delicate, slightly piquant dish.
Another appetizer, the garlic sauce in the lightly battered and fried cauliflower florets had mellowed to a nutty flavor in cooking, which enhanced the taste of the crispy vegetable. The dish, Lasuni Gobi, is from the North. There’s no standard recipe for chicken tikka. Saffron has its own version — a marinade of what else but ginger, garlic, cumin powder, a hint of vinegar and coriander.
The entrees are vivid yet mild, although the lamb hara masala, cooked in a green sauce of coriander green chili and mint was pleasantly bold. Other entrees consisted of Saffron tikka, marinated boneless pieces of chicken in yogurt and gram flour saffron and lightly flavored with nutmeg, clove, ginger and garlic. The natural sweetness of the tandoori salmon (fish tikka Jalfrezi) was perfectly balanced by the tangy tomato sauce, onion seeds and bell pepper. Jalfrezi can be made with various meats and at various heat levels.
Mr. Brahmbhatt also emphasizes vegetarian dishes such as the Palak Paneer, cubes of homemade cheeses smothered in freshly ground spinach, garlic and herbs, and the aloo gobi mutter, a dish of lightly spiced potatoes, cauliflower and green peas cooked in ginger and tomato sauce. A puffed whole wheat bread (poori) and a bowl of peas and carrot basmati rice were served to accompany the entrees. Saffron also serves traditional Indian desserts.
Saffron is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. Visit SaffronNY.com to order online or to make reservations. Saffron is located on 75th Street at 320 Columbus Avenue. Tel 212-724-6363, fax 212-724-2098.
About Denise Mattia
A writer and photographer, Denise Mattia’s works are published nationally and internationally and include all aspects of leisure travel: art , culture, resorts, spas, food and wine and sports’ activities. She's the founder of the soon to be launched Yum-Yum-Traveler, a site devoted to reviewing restaurants in addition to her travel articles from around the world. She lives and works in Manhattan, where she was born.