Sometimes when you walk into a restaurant and look around, you are reminded of the comfort of “home.” At home, you just know you are in the right place for a great meal with good company and in a cozy environment. Rahul Bhatia, of Saffron Indian Kitchen has created such an environment at his restaurant, and achieved something many restaurants are still working on improving – great food provided with sincere hospitality and friendliness. You feel like you belong.
As soon as you walk into the restaurant, you are greeted by the warm smell of incense in the air. It’s inviting, comforting and just puts you at ease. There is definitely truth in the power of smell – the right scent can remind you of your favorite memories. For me, I was reminded of watching my grandmother when I was a child and how she used to wake up early each morning, say her prayers and light either a rose scented or jasmine scented incense stick everyday. She said that sweet smells in the morning helped to awaken sweet people. She was right!
Rahul Bhatia opened up his new Wayne, PA location about 1 month ago. He has two other restaurants in Ambler, PA and Bala Cyn Wyd, PA. The Wayne, PA location is on a main street with great visibility and right in the heart of a very hip downtown area. It’s a perfect spot to try Indian food for the first time, or indulge in your favorite Indian dishes. What also makes Saffron a great place to try is their monthly specials. They have a special menu depending on what Indian holiday (Holi, Diwali, etc.) or special event is held in that particular month. For Example, here is what is being offered for September.
The rest of the menu boasts a really great selection of items ranging from kati roll appetizers, to grilled Tandoori plates, meat dishes, vegetarian options, different breads and rice dishes, as well as a few South Indian dishes like dosa. If I had my way, I would have wanted to try it all, but sometimes there’s a need for self-control! Rahul was extremely helpful with explaining the menu and also gave some great recommendations of what to try for appetizers and main meal.
But, before the eating began, I had to order my all time favorite – Mango Lassi. (I mean come on…how can you go to an Indian restaurant and not order one? It’s like ordering a hamburger without the burger – it’s just not right!) And the one I had at Saffron was just perfect. Not too sweet, well balanced flavors between the yogurt and mango. It was creamy but not overly thick. Mango Lassi is meant to be refreshing and ice cold, and the evenings Mango Lassi definitely hit the spot. I really enjoyed the fact that it was just a simple drink – meaning that the mango shined throughout and there were no unnecessary ingredients in the lassi. Sometimes simple ingredients produce the most delicious results!
Once I had a few sips of my liquid gold, I knew I was ready to eat. For starters, we had an Appetizer Platter with Chicken Kati Roll, Onion Bhajia, and Vegetable Samosa. The flour roti for the Chicken Kati Roll was so delicious! It was flakey and soft. It was freshly made and I literally could have just eaten several of them in one sitting. The chicken was tender and generous inside the roll. The Onion Bhajia (similar to an American style fritter) was full of great seasoning and spices. It has a great crunch to it, yet soft in the inside and even tastier when accompanied by the mint and tamarind chutney served with it. The Veggie Samosa had a great outer pastry shell that was crispy and golden brown – just the way it should be. Overall, I was really pleased with the appetizers. They were mild as far as spice-factor (you can request more spice), but well seasoned and had fresh flavored ingredients in each. It’s a dish that would appeal to most customers because of the variety of flavors available in each item. Plus the mint and tamarind chutney both give this dish an added burst of flavor.
For dinner, we ordered a variety of dishes that were recommended to us by Rahul.
Lamb Kadai (Medium Spicy): This was a great recommendation because the meat was so tender! Sometimes lamb is hard to make because it can get tough very quickly when cooked. This time Saffron won the challenge. The dish had onions and bell peppers in a well seasoned tomato-based curry sauce that had a hint of tart and sweet, which made this dish very tasty. Also, I just need to point out the “meat to sauce ratio” was on point – this means that there was just enough meat to satisfy our appetite and just enough sauce to balance out the dish with the additional flavors. This is important to consider because the customer who is coming in for Indian food for first time should be allowed to experience the delicious flavors of the meats, plus the incredible sauces it is cooked in with all Indian sauces and seasonings. Unfortunately, some restaurants either have too much meat in a dish causing it to taste dry and lack much flavor. OR, on the flip side there is way too much sauce in the dish and you literally have to fish for the few little cubes of meat in it. Thank you Saffron for doing it right!
Chicken Makhani or “Butter Chicken” (Medium-Spicy): The main ingredient that made this dish really shine was the chicken. The chicken breast was so tender and flavorful..I literally haven’t had such tender chicken in a Makhani dish like this, in a long time. (Chicken breast is tricky because it can get dry when overcooked.) The Makhani sauce was sweet, spicy, creamy and deliciously thick – perfect for dipping your naan in or mixing with rice. The “meat to sauce ratio” was good as well making this dish really satisfying.
Saag Paneer (Medium-Spicy): Sometimes the best thing to do with certain vegetables is to let its real flavor come through in a dish, instead of masking it with unnecessary ingredients. This saag paneer was creamy, flavorful and I was able to taste the spinach throughout. This is a great dish for vegetarians because it is hearty, flavorful and satisfying. And I would definitely recommend this dish to someone trying Indian food for the first time – it is a great example of how our Indian foods can be vegetarian, yet packed with intense spice and flavors, as well as includes the “meatiness” from the paneer. Well Done!
Malai Kofta (Hot) – If you’ve never had this dish before, you must try it. It is my all-time favorite Indian dish. It is a vegetarian dish consisting of a “veggie meatball” cooked in a creamy sauce made with cashews and other vegetables. The “make or break” deal of this dish is how the veggie meatball is seasoned and what is used to make it. If the veggie meatball isn’t made right, the whole dish falls flat. (And trust me, I’ve ordered my fair share of this dish.) Saffron is probably the first place where I’ve had a perfectly seasoned veggie meatball in my Malai Kofta experiences. It was a perfect combination of salty, sweet and spicy. I was trying to figure out what it reminded me of when I was initially eating it and finally realized – it tastes like a really good samosa filling! It had this really great taste of cinnamon, cloves and onions in it and it flavored the potato mixture so well. (It tasted like ingredients in my mom’s veggie samosas.) And the sauce was incredible – thick and creamy with little pieces of cashews in it. (My mouth is watering as I’m writing at the moment!) Plus it had some real heat which made it even tastier in my opinion. This is one dish I truly enjoyed during my visit and loved eating even more as leftovers the next day! The only problem I had was that I didn’t order an extra dish to go!
Mixed Bread Basket: The breads we had the opportunity to try were the Garlic Naan, Onion Naan and Mint Paratha. They were all freshly made on premises and brought out piping hot, which to me, is a big deal. Hot curries need hot bread…it just makes the food taste better. (I know I must sound picky…lol) The Garlic Naan had a good amount of fresh garlic, parsley and butter on it and was pretty good. I will say though, the Mint Paratha could have used more mint flavor to it, but the bread itself was flaky and soft. Now the Onion Naan – OMG!!! Folks if you have the chance to go to Saffron – order the Onion Naan. And then when you finish it – order one to go…this was my favorite bread of the night! (Saffron – you are welcome to name it the “Chetna’s Onion Naan” or “Spice Culture Naan” anyday..lol) I tried to pace myself, but I had to let go of self-control and indulge. The naan was soft, buttery and filled with delicious sautéed onions in it. It was probably the best bread to compliment all the dishes we had this evening.
And now you’re probably thinking this girl is stuffed and can’t eat another bite right? Well guess what – WRONG!! Every dinner needs to end with a sweet treat, and who am I to break tradition! I wasn’t sure what to order, so Rahul brought out a sampler tray with Badam Kheer, Pistachio Kulfi, and Gulab Jamun. The Badam Kheer is basically a rice pudding with mixed nuts, sugar, cardamom and sometimes saffron. This dessert is a really refreshing dessert, despite its creaminess. It wasn’t too sweet and the rice was cooked really well – not mushy or al dente. If you love rice pudding in general, then this kheer is probably something you will really enjoy. The Pistachio Kulfi was creamy and packed with Pistachios. It wasn’t too sweet, which was a bit surprising, and had more of the nutty pistachio taste to it. It was actually pretty good because the star in the dish was the Pistachio flavor, not the sugar. It was very earthy and simple – great for someone looking for a “not to sweet” dessert option. Gulab Jamun is an Indian version of a sweet dumpling/donut in a sugary syrup – sometimes with a rose flavor in it. I will admit – I’m not a big Gulab Jamun person – I tend to lean more towards the milkier and creamier desserts, but I tried it and it had a cinnamon and rose flavor to it. The dumpling was soft and spongy and a beautiful golden brown color on the outside. The syrup was sweet and also seemed to have a light floral taste to it. Personally, I think this was a really good dessert. It is an indulgent one with the rose and sugar syrup, and the soft doughy cinnamon-flavored dumpling in it but you only live once, so enjoy the moment! (Saffron – a few more bites next time and you might convert me into ordering Gulab Jamun instead of my milkier desserts!) :O)
Listen folks – this place was really good! From the ambiance to the service to the food – nothing was lacking. What I also appreciated was that Rahul and the service staff would come by a few times to check on us and make sure everything was okay. To some people – this may seem insignificant or annoying to others. But – you can tell when a restaurant really cares about their customers AND the quality of their food when they come by to check all is well. I definitely recommend this restaurant to everyone who loves Indian food and anyone who want to try Indian food for the first time. This is the place to go!
For more information on all Saffron locations and their menu, check out their website at: http://www.saffronofphilly.com
Tell them Chetna from “Spice Culture” sent you – maybe they will send you home with an extra order of Onion Naan and Malai Kofta…for me! :O) (just kidding)