If you are new to this blog, or read it with your eyes shut, The Practical Cook will announce again, she loves Indian food. Every single time someone says they can’t stand it, I find myself shocked and compelled to start asking questions. For one thing, it’s an incredibly diverse cuisine to simply write off. This is as true between Indian restaurants as it is regions they represent, but I admit I have a favorite or two.
One of my favorites, times two, is Saffron. You see, according to rumor, the chef from the Morrisville, NC Saffron (which I dearly love for the lunch buffet that includes 70 percent veg dishes, diverse and unusual items, and hot naan, very nicely done) sold that branch to a partner and started the Chapel Hill restaurant called Saffron.
The CH Saffron excels at high-end Indian, not your average over-creamy borderline bland fare. This is fresh spinach and homemade paneer, and wow, it shows. On a recent trip, we ordered the Bhindi (cut on the diagonal and fried crisp with spices, yes, Indian fried okra) and the Aloo Tikki Chana Chaat, which translates roughly into Indian nachos. It is deconstructed street food, and it tastes like spicy sunshine and happiness. Potato, with a clean cilantro tamarind undertone, and crunchy snacks crumbled atop. It’s a try to believe it dish.
For mains, Lamb Korma and Palak Paneer. The lamb was nicely done, perhaps a little too done for me, but the Palak Paneer I would walk on hot rocks to reach. Seriously, it’s just that good. Coupled with perfectly done rice and garlic naan (they have rosemary and jalepeño naan as well, but I like the classics here), it is fabulous.
A couple of things, the CH Saffron is not cheap, but the portions are large (if you’re not eating family style, you will have leftovers), and the quality is outstanding. It’s worth it.
The other item worth mentioning about CH Saffron is the spice level. The wait staff is great, but they are obviously trained to give a papadam and chutney speech that assumes you’ve never eaten Indian food before, and may be a little slow. So the spiel is mildly annoying, but understandable if you think this place is catering to a more Americanized palate. But it isn’t: this food is spiced for realz. Not painfully fiery, but a number of the dishes mean business, and there’s not a scale or warning system. Just be prepared to eat good, flavorful food, and ask for more raita to cool it if need be.
One final note of caution, I wouldn’t order seafood in any form, as it’s not a kitchen strength. The special last time was Chilean Sea Bass. Most of us know this is on the overfished list, but try dining with DrSharky, who you might guess is an expert in this area, and risk getting forked if you order it. Additionally, when I’ve ordered fish (once) it was overdone, by a lot. I’ve just never heard someone say that they’ve enjoyed their seafood there, but have actively heard people say they haven’t enjoyed their fish dishes.
In case you think this is a snootie-foodie kind of place, I’ll also out Dr. Particular, who was with us. She is picky, as the name implies, and she loves CH Saffron above all other Indian restaurants. In fact, she ordered the Bhindi, and it’s one of the only green things she’ll eat. Ponder that one.
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Tomorrow, as always, Weekly Menus, On the Road Again.