Earlier this year, new people took ownership and management of the Saffron Indian Cuisine Restaurant, in The Center at Ten shopping mall, on Cantrell Road west of Interstate 430, Little Rock.
We didn’t get a chance to check out the new brunch buffet on the weekend, but the menus posted on Facebook looked great.
We were able to check out the menu, which has undergone some revisions, although a few items that piqued our interest were not available.
Fortunately, we found acceptable concessions. The food was almost universally commendable; Service, even when it doesn’t get down to what seems quite annoying, maybe not so much.
Saffron comfortably accommodates about 60 diners in a pleasant, albeit somewhat dark, atmosphere punctuated by South Asian music played fairly loudly over the sound system. The obligatory painting of the Taj Mahal is one of several works of art, which includes a stunning picture of you on the back wall (between the dining room and kitchen) near a framed advertisement that “all meat is halal certified,” which means it abides by the laws of the Islamic diet.
We found some interesting items on the appetizer menu, including the Duck Sarpotel ($8.95), described on the menu as “crunchy duck, [with] Roasted spices drizzled in a chili garlic sauce served with paratha, ‘a kind of Indian flatbread. Except – well, it wasn’t available.
However, the kitchen scored well on two of the appetizers that were available. Paneer Chili ($10.95), crispy and crunchy paneer (an Indian type of cottage cheese with a texture similar to tofu) with onions and peppers in an unassuming spicy chile sauce, was flavorful, but not as tasty as chicken mambari ($9.95) crispy chicken sauteed in a sauce Spicy chili with chunks of celery and ginger. Both portions were large enough to serve as small appetizers.
Intrepid Companion, who continues a personal survey of lentil soup at the area restaurant, enjoyed this dish ($4.49), called the house specialty on the menu, which is slightly lighter in color than is usually seen, and slightly citrusy.
Two menu items from the tandoor (the cylindrical clay or metal oven used for Indian roasting) particularly hit our crockery, one per visit. Both were among the dishes that look good in the pictures flashing across the TV screen near the front entrance. (There must be a law or regulation or something that prohibits raising customer interest in this way and then not keeping a promise.)
◼️ Peshawari Lamb Chop ($21.99), marinated lamb chops, topped with fresh ginger juice, yoghurt and spices. On some days, our server told us, that lamb chops “are not available in the market” and advised us to call ahead next time maybe we’ll be lucky.
◼️ The Whole Red Snapper ($19.99), made with chili, cumin, coriander, and suspended yogurt (according to this trusted online food source, it’s plain yogurt from which the whey drains through cheese or muslin—we learn something new every day.) Especially attractive in the photo, too. We were very disappointed to see if we could try the alternative, a full Branzino.
We instead ended up choosing three dishes, served in small copper pots, which looked alike but of course didn’t taste the same, all of which, given the choice, we order again:
◼️ Chicken Vindaloo ($13.95), diced chicken in a garlic-vinegar mixture (that’s the menu term) with smoked cloves and chili. The chicken was tender – we had this dish with chewy and/or dry chicken, and believe us, you don’t want that.
◼️ Irani Ghosh ($15.95), Chunks of Mutton in Caramelized Onion Sauce with Signature Cardamom. The lamb was also surprisingly tender; We had a lot of dishes in South Asian restaurants where the kitchen overcooked the lamb, so this was a pleasant surprise.
◼️ Tamil Fish Curry ($14.95), chunks of reasonably moist mahi mahi in a creamy coconut sauce with curry leaves and small whole red peppers. (We did spend some time separating the peppers, which of course are the same color as the reddish-brown sauce, so we avoided biting the peppers in one fortunately.)
We were not asked, in either visitor, how much we wanted our spicy dishes, which we consider necessary in Indian restaurants – as a measure to protect the palate and because people’s preferences have to be taken into account. As a result, although we enjoyed dishes with our spicier quotient, we might prefer at least one of these dishes to be spicier. or more moderate. Or at least he had a choice.
This was just one of the small service issues we encountered. It took a long time for the waiter to come and take our order, and he was somewhat less generous about the process. He never asked us if we wanted a drink other than water, which comes in a self-serve, well-cooled, pebbled bottle with a swing-out ceramic stopper (similar to Dutch beer bottles). We never got it, although we saw it being brought to other tables, free papadam with or without sauce.
We only saw the waiter at the beginning to take our order and at the end of the meal to bring the check. For all other issues, we tackled the most fun and helpful food runner.
We can, back to our meal, recommend from the bread menu, Saffron’s Garlic Naan ($2.95), which wasn’t as crisp as we might have wished, it was finely peeled with garlic (again, not to be taken lightly by Indian restaurants in other areas, but it seems that a lot of Garlic naan involves waving a garlic clove on a piece of flatbread. And we particularly enjoyed the selection of the Intrepid Companion, Cheese Chilly Naan ($3.95), stuffed almost to the point of oozing with house-made spiced cheese with chunks of green pepper.
When we finally tracked down someone to order some Mango Lassi containing yogurt ($3.50), it came in wine glasses with plastic straws that were ridiculously twice the height of the glass. We learned on the second visit to only drink it without artificial help.
Indian cuisine with saffron
- Tabuk: The Center in Tenn, 12911 Cantrell Rd, Little Rock
- hours: 11 AM – 2:30 PM, 5-10 PM daily
- dishes: Indian
- Alcoholic beverages: Wine and beer
- Wheelchair allowed: yes
- credit cards: V, MC, D, AE
- Information: (501) 313-5335; saffronarkansas.com, facebook.com/SaffronLittleRock