Review – Saffron in Chapel Hill
Ever since Charlie got a call from Saffron’s in Chapel Hill asking if someone could do a review of their restaurant, I have been itching to go here, so this past weekend, we decided to give it a try. We went with some good friends of ours who are vegetarians. I have also been trying to eat less meat lately, so we decided to make the whole meal vegetarian and order family style. Most of the dishes were served with creamy sauces, reminiscent of Northern Indian cuisine, but these were certainly much different from most of the Indian restaurants I’ve eaten at in the Triangle area. And, before you think, “Hey, isn’t that the same restaurant as the one in Morrisville?” it is not. Actually, the owners of the Morrisville restaurant were going to be involved with the restaurant in Chapel Hill, but the owners parted ways before the Chapel Hill restaurant opened. I was confused because the folks at the Blue Taj said they had relatives managing both the Mint in Chapel Hill and Saffron, but they meant the Saffron restaurant in Greensboro.
Upon entering Saffron’s, you immediately get the feeling of opulence. There is a big, metal dome structure in the middle of the front room. Our hostess first led us to the back room and was going to sit us at a table for six, but we asked if we could wait for a table of four, since there is only four in our party. She then sat us under the dome structure. I have to say the dome was a very interesting experience! It has a very unique acoustic phenomenon happening. If you are sitting on one side of the dome, you will hear the people at the table opposite you as though they were sitting right next to you. This happened more at just two of the seats at our table, so at the end of our meal, we all swapped seats to hear the voices from the other tables. It seemed like one person was wearing a microphone because it was so loud! The waiter explained to us that typically, the dome is used for large parties, and when the tables are moved together, they can hear the conversation on the opposite end of the table. I can see where that might come in handy! I was seated just outside of the dome, next to the bar and must say it was a bit distracting to have no divider between the seating area and the bar. For an upscale restaurant like this, they should have some separation.
We ordered cocktails and an appetizer to start our meal. I had the Hell’s Kitchen, a Manhattan made with a special kind of whiskey that was on the peppery side. It was a good way to start off an Indian meal. As we waited to get our cocktails, we looked around the room and saw the place was buzzing with many diners – a good sign this was going to be a good meal. After several minutes, our waiter came with some complimentary papadams because our meal was taking a long time to be served. After reminding the water boy that we had ordered cocktails, the drinks arrived just a few seconds later.
Our appetizer was the Tandoori Vegetable Khazana, which was a sampler plate with the Paneer cheese, that was cooked in a tandoor clay oven, then grilled. It had nice grill marks on it and had a really mild flavor to it that was divine. The next item on the appetizer was a Subz Galouti, which was a patty made from pureed fresh vegetables and mushrooms. It was kind of like a homemade veggie patty. Very good as well. The third item was the Potli Samosa. I have always loved Samosas and this one was no exception. If you have never had one, a Samosa is a fried dough stuffed with potatoes and peas. Sometimes they are also stuffed with lentils and other goodies. The fourth item was the Aloo Tikki Chana Chaat, which was like a little salad of chickpeas, onions, tomatoes, yogurt, with two chutneys over a spicy potato patty. It had a little heat to it, but not overwhelming heat.
For our entrees, we ordered the Nargisi Kofta, which was a mixed vegetable and potato mixture with paneer cheese that was breaded and fried. It looked like a little pyramid. It was served with a rich, creamy sauce that was mild and had a little sweetness to it. The sauce was made with tomatoes, onions and spiced with cardamom and coriander.
We had the Began Pasanda, which was some slices of eggplant that had been marinated in a garlic and ginger paste and smoked in a clay oven, then served with a creamy sauce made of pureed eggplant, onion and tomato sauce and seasoned with fresh cilantro and dill. It was my favorite of the four dishes we tried.
The third dish we had was the Daal Bukhara, which is a sauce made with black lentils, chickpeas and kidney beans. It came with a side of white rice, so you ladle the daal over the rice. It was quite mild, but tasty.
The fourth entree was the most spicy of the four and was really delicious. It was the Bharwan Simla Mirch which was slices of bell peppers that were stuffed with potatoes, mixed vegetables and paneer and was served with a spicy tomato and bell pepper sauce. My nose was starting to run a little bit from the spices, which is a sign that this is a real Indian restaurant!
We split two orders of naan, the flat bread that is typically served with Indian dishes. We had the garlic naan and the rosemary naan. I loved both, but the rosemary was a real treat because I had not had naan with rosemary before. It really complimented the spicy dishes.
We were all feeling full, but decided to split a dessert. We ordered the Pistachio ice cream (it had a different name, but I can’t remember what the waiter called it). It was a great way to cool the palate. Chopped pistachios were on the top and bottom of the ice cream. It was served with a drizzle of chocolate and caramel.
Saffron’s is a bit on the pricey side, so save your pennies before you come here, or wait until you see a special. We had a diner’s coupon that my husband got through his employer, which brought the price of the meal down substantially. It is a great place to go for a date, a business dinner or other special occasion.