If you’ve heard anything about Saffran, a new eatery that opened in South Orlando recently, it was probably referred to as an Icelandic restaurant. True, it’s a second location for a restaurant in Glaesibaer, Iceland, an eatery that opened in 2009 and has had sufficient success there, apparently, for the owners to take it global. But the menu here is less Icelandic than it is Indian or Mediterranean or some other worldly cuisine. The bill of fare is peppered with naans and tandoor specialties, as well as salads and burgers. There are no puffins or shark or even gravlax. There are, however, African, Moroccan and even Mexican versions of the item called a Safflat. More on that in a moment.
The best thing about Saffran was the staff. My dinner guest and I were greeted by a young woman when we walked in and she led us through the menu. After we had been seated, someone soon brought us our food and even fetched some napkins and flatware for us (this is quick-serve, so technically that was our task). Another person stopped by to see if we needed anything, and later when I walked past the open kitchen were the cooks were toiling over the grill and the super hot tandoor oven, one of them looked up and asked if I had enjoyed the food. They were all so kind and gracious and so downright earnest that I didn’t have the heart to say no.
But, in fact, there wasn’t anything I’d come back here to have. I appreciate that the restaurant strives to serve healthful, fresh food using good quality ingredients -- no white flour or white sugar is used -- and starting many of the items from scratch, and I would expect some people will seek out the restaurant for that reason. But to lure me back, the food would have to be more interesting and more flavorful. The name Saffran, by the way, is apparently a different spelling of saffron, which the menu says is imported from Iceland for use in the recipes here. A little more of it might have spiced things up a bit.
We began our meal with an order of naan, for example. This wasn’t the type of naan that you’d find in any Indian restaurant in the area. But maybe in Iceland naan is the word they give to pita bread, because that’s more of what it resembled. Whole wheat pita at that. Dry and slightly chewy.
The meat of the “tandoori beef and bell pepper on a spear” items was good, but the bell pepper that had second billing was just one small slice. And the brown rice that accompanied was as dry as the naan, though the side salad was nice and fresh.
Safflats dominate the menu. The name, apparently, is a mashup of Saffran and flatbread, which is what they resemble, though the woman who took us through the menu said they were Saffran’s version of pizza. The crust seemed to be of the same dough that produced the naan. I had the Moroccan Safflat, which had marinated lamb, leeks, red chili and mushrooms, topped with leafy green lettuce. It looked nice, and the flavors were OK, though there was a bit too much of the whole wheat crust and not enough of the toppings.
The friendly staff is the only thing warm about the place (I suppose an Icelandic restaurant would feel cold). It is stark and impersonal, with stained concrete floors and high unfinished ceilings. Some fun odd-bulb hanging light fixtures and a mural of a waterfall are the only real decorating touches.
Beer and wine are available, but I tell you that with the caveat that the selections are severely limited. Only a few brews from Orlando Brewing Co. are available for beer drinkers, and only Lakeridge Wines are offered. I applaud the owners for featuring local products, I really do, but a little more diversity would be appreciated, too.
One other plus: a meal here is pretty quick.
I wonder about the location; I think it would make this a tough sell. But then it should be noted that Saffran sits behind Izziban Sushi, which seems to be doing just fine there. The key is to offer a product that keeps people coming back.
Saffran is at 1700 Sand Lake Road, Orlando, in the group of shops on the southwest corner of Sand Lake Road and Orange Blossom Trail. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. Most Safflats are under $10; the tandoori beef was $12.95. This link will take you to Saffran’s website. The phone number is 407-856-8881.