Cheap Eats: Saffron

When we broaden our pallets we also broaden our horizon of limitless knowledge, especially when it comes to tasting rare spices from around the world in unique and affordable restaurants such as Saffron. Owners Peter Stris and his wife, Radha opened their first Saffron in Downtown LA almost two years ago, and recently opened their second location on Beverly Drive. With passion and meticulous methods, the Pathaks introduced a fresh approach to Indian food.

This is something the restaurant makes clear by proudly displaying that statement on their red henna covered walls, but even those words don't do it justice. When I first walked into Saffron, I thought the name symbolized the moist yellow saffron rice that my mother used to make, thus looking forward to this memorable dish.

So, when the waitress served my entrée of aloo gobi and chicken curry with a side of white basmati rice, I was confused and felt the need to ask her why the rice was white.

She explained that Saffron is an expensive spice derived from the crocus flower commonly found in Southwest Asia.

With utmost amusement, interest, and a long conversation over an exceptional meal, I found out things I had never known about the Indian culture and the methods they use to create those memorable flavors.

The small Indian bistro offers a simple menu with a choice of two entrees with a side of rice or salad. After you place your order of either a combo plate for $8 or small bowl for $6, you will receive the food the minute you sit down.

As I grabbed a mouthful of my aloo gobi and chicken curry, I didn't really know what I was getting myself into. The chicken curry was simmered in a savory tomato-onion curry that was drenched with the most invigorating sauce I had ever tasted. I continued pouring it on my rice as if it was a dressing to a salad, because it unquestionably enhanced the dish.

The aloo gobi was comparable as its display of sautéed cauliflower and potatoes brought a new taste to ordinary vegetables, and when adding a bite of mango chutney to the whole entrée, it was as if my taste buds were thanking me for providing them with such a sweet flavor combined with a zest of coriander, cumin, and turmeric.

Other menu selections include a variety of chicken served with seasoned herbs, sauces, and vegetables, and vegetarian plates consisting of tofu, spinach, and even their traditional Indian cheese. Saffron's naan bread is a must as its thin dough covered in garlic seasonings is only $1 and their notable samosas, comprised of piquant cooked meat or vegetables in fried dough, are just $2.

Even though Saffron may seem like a small ordinary restaurant by providing quick service and minimal menu selections, the restaurant is visually impressive as it wowed both my eyes and olfactory.

Although similar to Chipotle Mexican Grill, in the style and sense of quick service and cheap food, they differ in a significant approach to modern dining. While Chipotle serves their dishes on cheap plastic bowls, Saffron delivers their entrees with black modern-functional plates, as if you were dining in a high-end restaurant.

Along with their state-of-the-art dishes, where food is distinguishably separated and clean-cut, their salsa bar and fresh cucumber water is unforgettable. The range of mango chutney, mint, tamarind, and jalapeño chili paste presents an eye-opening image which enables you to grab a side of each to add a unique flavor to every entree.

After your taste buds burst with and hot and tangy salsas, cool them off with Saffron's cucumber ice water, which not only keeps you fresh with a slight taste of cucumber but also presents a sense of high-end ambiance to the inexpensive restaurant.

"Alternate Indian dishes I've tried were really heavy, unfulfilling, and pretty pricy, but Saffron gives customers the opportunity to customize their dishes; whether they want more of something and less of another at an affordable price," stated Tali Charisky, a new regular to Saffron.

Although new to the Beverly block, Saffron already seems to have many loyal customers due to its unique Indian flavors, modern setting, and reasonable price. You not only enter a world of spices, but leave with a new understanding and experience of the Indian culture.