I approached Saffron, a new Indian cafe on Restaurant Row Orlando, with some trepidation because of some comments I had read about the restaurant. They weren’t negative comments. Quite the contrary; they were ebulliently, glowingly positive. It was more a matter of where and when I read the comments. I read them on Saffron’s website. Before the restaurant opened.
Peppering one’s website with kudos from customers isn’t anything new or unexpected. Loading it up with paragraphs of praise before you open your doors is disingenuous at best.
But now that I’ve eaten at Saffron I’m willing to agree that perhaps the early reviewers were merely being prescient. I enjoyed my food there, and the overall experience was quite enjoyable.
I was first heartened that this was going to be a good situation when my lunch companion ordered the chicken vindaloo and the server did not ask if he wanted it mild, medium or hot, as the servers in too many Indian restaurants do. Instead, she reminded him, without insulting his food knowledge, that vindaloo is a spicy preparation and asked if that was OK. It was. And when I ordered my chana masala, she indicated that dish is usually prepared medium-hot, and again asked if that was acceptable. I wish the other Indian restaurants in the area would take note: that’s the way it should be done. Inform -- educate if necessary -- the way a dish is traditionally prepared, then let the guest decide whether to order it or something else. And then if the guest asks if the kitchen can alter the spicing, do what you can to accommodate. But always be true to your cuisine first.
That said, the only odd thing about our respective dishes is that the “medium” chana masala was spicier than the “hot” chicken vindaloo, though neither was scorch the earth hot. But both were good. The gravies were thick and the seasonings were layered rather than jumbled. The vindaloo was a classic goan style curry with subtle sweet notes hidden behind the fire. The chana masala, a vegetarian dish with chickpeas as the main ingredient, featured a red-tinged brown curry with onions, ginger and coriander, among myriad other ingredients.
The curries were accompanied by basmati rice, and the lunch specials included a big samosa, the flaky triangular pastry filled with huge hunks of potatoes and peas. There was also a bread basket of naan and papadum. And at the end of the meal, a small dish of rice pudding, mughlai kheer. It was quite a deal for $7.95 for the chana masala and $8.75 for the chicken vindaloo.
Saffron has moved into the space that was previously occupied, oh so briefly, by La Nuova Cucina, in the small grouping of shops between Seasons 52 and Roy’s. Little has been done to alter the look or feel of the room, including, unfortunately, leaving the refrigerated beverage case at the back of the smallish dining room. But it’s comfortable and modestly chic. In case I hadn’t gotten the point across earlier, service was very good.
I’m happy to add my voice to the other praising Saffron, even those that jumped the gun a bit.
Saffron is at 7724 W. Sand Lake Road, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. This link will take you to Saffron Indian Cuisine’s website. The phone number is 407-674-8899.