Sunday, February 17, 2008

Saffron Indian Restaurant in Naples

Saffron’s co-owner and chef Rajesh Rimal has a welcome winner with Saffron’s cooking. It is hidden away behind a Hess gas station just off Pine Ridge, where the original Noodles was, then a BBQ Brothers, then a Cracklin Jack’s. My guests initially drove right by, 10 feet in front of Saffron’s at 5:30 pm, not seeing a lit sign or lights on inside, and kept on driving, before circling back. Pending new signage will remedy that! My two North Indian guests, quite well respected cooks, and I will happily return for more meals at Saffron. Saffron is more authentically Indian than Bonita's Passage to India, which is more like a British Pub's Indian food, and Passages is ok, only in a pinch. (If in Fort Myers-Bonita area, I'd recommend India Palace.)

The décor is simple, autumnal with oranges and woods, wooden tables in the center and cushioned booths around the perimeter, with Indian music gently playing in the background. Service is prompt, a pleasure as it’s only 3 weeks old. While this is usually too early for me to visit, the buzz about the place was just too strong to ignore.
The garlic Naan ($3.95), freshly baked in the Tandoor clay oven, filled a large basket , was the diameter of a medium pizza, and could have been a meal unto itself.
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Naan
The generous mixed appetizer ($14.95), designed to serve 4, could be a dinner for two, with a kebab, meat samosa, a veggie samosa, chicken pakora, onion bhajai, eggplant pakora, sweet potato pakora, broccoli pakora and a crisp papadum on top. This sampling of all the other appetizers is a great way to start. Everything was properly cooked and deliciously spiced. The crispy things were super crispy, and the samosas were richly flavorful. The accompanying mint chutney was a delight.

Mixed Appetizer Next was quite fresh salads with a slightly tangy vinaigrette. The Mulligatawny soup (($4.95) was vegetarian, a change for those who expect chicken, and it was the only “just ok” dish of the evening.


The entrees were the stars. We ordered “medium” spicy on our dishes, and it was spot on. The Gosht Akbari ($17.95) was a succulent taste blend of lamb with dried apricots, other fruits and sliced green and red peppers in a tasty rich sauce. We could have used another few tablespoons of delectable sauce to dip with the naan; we were very happy with the dish.

The lusciously creamy Goa Shrimp ($18.95), with several perfectly tender large shrimp cooked in a mildly spiced coconut based sauce, was a tender delight, and my favorite, as I sopped up all the the sauce with the naan.

Goa Shrimp and Gosht Akbari Gosht Akbari
The mixed Tandoori Grill ($17.95) was a tasty selection of Chicken Tikka, (breast meat), Tandoori Shrimp, much like BBQ’ d shrimp, and Malai Seekh Kabobs- tasty lamb -a great example of a true Indian kebab, properly spiced. While the tandoor chicken was a touch dry, this was not the case with others who later ordered it. Others raved about the Saffron special chicken ($13.95)- a boneless chicken cooked with cauliflower in a light and spicy sauce.

Mixed Tandoor Platter (Veggies replacing rice) The white rice was very tasty, accompanied by cinnamon sticks, cloves, and mild tasting whole green cardamon pods. Sampling the Rogan Josh revealed a pleasant lamb curry. To be overly picky, it was just not the specific taste of the exquisite North Indian- Kashmiri Rogan Josh delight my Kashmiri (North Indian) cooks were expecting, which is where the dish originated. (It's like serving a "New England clam chowder" with a touch of say, coconut milk or corinader and cumin. Yes, it's a clam chowder; tasty?-perhaps, creative?-uh-huh; the real New England clam chowder deal to a New Englander?-nope.) Many US Indian restaurants generically call lamb curry variations a “Rogan Josh”, not aware that it’s really a very specific tasting dish, so we were not surprised- this is only an academic point, and certainly not a strike against them.


***Addendum*** We later tried the Hyderabadi Biryani ($17), a huge portion of tender spiced lamb, rice, nuts, raisins and other goodies, that has a great blend of mild spices , mild "heat" and just enough natural sweetness, to keep us tasting more! Check my July 1, 2008 entry for a second visit..



We were already planning on inviting other Indian diners to enjoy this oasis of food at a later date, when we heard of the Mango, and the pistachio Kulfis ($5) for dessert. Kulfi is a very hard and generally pretty sweet Indian ice cream, made of thickened milk (rather than a thick cream) and frozen in a specific mold, to yield perfect triangles of frozen love. Our favorite was the mango. Both were good, and less sweet than as found in India. Still, a good ending to a lovely meal.

Pistachio Kulfi Dining Room at 6 O'clock
The bill for generously serving very good Indian food to 3 people was $93, including 2 spiced teas and a diet soft drink, and there was food enough for four people-we wanted to sample a lot! While $23 per person may be higher than in other cities, one must cover the Naples high rent. This is a quite moderate price for the best quality Indian Cooking in the Lee- Collier area. The restaurant is already getting a following, all by word of mouth. We were full, and happily brought home the rest. Is it the best Indian restaurant we've sampled out of well over a hundred? No, however we were very pleased, and will sample more of Saffron’s offerings again.

Chef Pravir, Pallavi, and Chef Raj
Saffron Indian Restaurant 2059 Pine Ridge Rd. (Behind Hess Station) Naples, FL 239-331-3319
Supper only now, Tuesday-Sunday, closed Mondays

6 comments:

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Kelly said...

My mom and I at Saffron's for the 1st time and it has become our new favorite restaurant. We love Indian food and by far this is the best in the area (even Ft. Myers). The owners are very nice, the service is wonderful and last but not least, the food is delicious. We are both vegetarians and they have so many things to choose from. People definitely need to try this restaurant. They won't be disappointed. We found the prices very normal for the Naples area. Plus you are paying for delicious food!

Ivan de Naples said...

Kelly,

You hit on a sore point in many "Western" restaurant offerings. Vegetarians often are treated as an after thought, whereas in Indian Cookery, vegetarianism is often the dominant way of life, and the cookery follows.

To me, if a restaursnt has at least a few items- appetizers, mains, and a dessert, that satisfy a vegetarian, then that's "vegetarian friendly", a very good start. Saffron has more than that, and is truly a "vegetarian destination". People vote with their business, and omnivors and vegatarians both can be very happy at Saffron, and financially supportive as well.

Diaspora - trip to eldorado said...

Hate to bust your bubble but, being of Indian origin and having tasted the food at Saffron I will vehemently argue your opinion of this being good food. It is tasteless and lacks the true "indian" oomph.

But then again, you like the Indian Palace.So much for your taste!

Ivan de Naples AKA Ivan Seligman said...

Diaspora,

India has over 800 million population, and easily over 50 different cooking styles.

I have been told by one Indian friend that the "only" good Indian food is cooked in an Indian home, so I relish your comment about the two restaurants!

Curious, what style of Indian cookery do you favor? Which, if any, Indian restaurants you recommend in Florida?

Anonymous said...

can someone please help me i seem to have a recipe for Gosht-E-Akbari (Rich and Spicy Mutton Curry)that isn't complete? For the seasonings it doesn’t stay how to finish and misses out some ingredients:- Cardamoms – 4, Cloves 4, Cinnamon - 1 inch piece &
Black pepper corn – 8? Could you please help me to complete this recipe. Thanking you. :)







Gosht-E-Akbari (Rich and Spicy Mutton Curry)



Ingredients

Meat - 1/2 Kg

Milk - 1/2 cup

Onion 1, chopped

Ginger, garlic paste - 1 tablespoon

Coriander powder - 1/2 tablespoon

Chilli powder - 2 teaspoon

Cumin powder - 1/2 tablespoon

Garam masala - 1 teaspoon

Saffron few strands

Flour - 1 tablespoon

Ghee 1 tablespoon

Salt - to taste

For seasoning

Green peas - 100 gms, boiled

Onion 1, chopped

Oil - 1 tablespoon

Cardamoms - 4

Cloves 4

Cinnamon - 1 inch piece

Black pepper corn - 8

Bay leaf 1

Red chilli - 2



Method

Step 1: Cook the mutton with all the ingredients except the saffron, flour and ghee.

Step 2: Saut頴he flour with ghee in a pan for sometime.

Step 3: Then gradually add some water to form a batter and add that to the gosht and keep stirring for 5 minutes.

Step 4: Add saffron and cook for another 5 minutes.

Step 5: In another pan heat oil, add the onions, garam masala and bay leaf and fry till brown.

Step 6: Add the green peas and the red chillies and stir for 2 minutes.

Step 7: Then add the gosht and mix well and remove from fire.

Step 8: Garnish with onion rings, coriander leaves and lemon wedges.


Mish

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