I love it when random happenstance causes me to have a great food experience I wouldn't normally have. A couple of weeks ago, we were lucky enough to win a gift certificate to Beverly Hills eatery Saffron at a charity event/Christmas Party held by the lovely ladies over at Finer Things LA, who had nothing but compliments to festoon both the owner and his food. I found myself in the area with one of my oldest friends (who happens to be a vegetarian and already a fan of Saffron), and decided I was in the food mood for Indian, which, as regular readers know, is not a cuisine I often eat.
Saffron, which has a branch in downtown L.A. as well, is the brainchild of attorney Peter Stris, his wife Radha Pathak, and their business partner Ben Karlin. Prior to opening Saffron, the trio had no experience in the restaurant business, but they clearly have a sense of what works. Saffron had been described to me as the Baja Fresh/Chipotle (both of which I love) of Indian cuisine, and I think that's pretty accurate - in other words, it's American-friendly Indian fast food, made with good ingredients, and better yet, great flavors. The decor has another parallel to Chipotle, no-frills with lots of stainless steel.
As an added bonus, the food is eminently affordable and arrived almost before I had a chance to pick a seat. I got a combo plate (any two entree choices + basmati rice or salad), and went with my two favorite Indian dishes: chicken daal, which features marinated chicken breast cooked with 4 varieties of Indian lentils (below, left), and saag paneer, chopped spinach cooked with garlic, ginger, onions, Indian spices, and traditional Indian cheese (below, right). Both dishes were really good, although the bold flavors of the traditional dishes were slightly muted, making them, in my opinion, more palatable to those not as familiar with Indian cuisine (like me and Mark!). I was totally satiated, all for the almost insane price of $7.95.
Being the world's best girlfriend, I brought home a couple more combo plates and sides for Mark, containing a larger cross-section of the menu (which includes favorites like chicken tikka masala, aloo gobi, samosas, naan, and cucumber raita). The quality of the food - which traveled remarkably well - held up across the board.
I think that a trip to Saffron would be a nice way to introduce people to Indian cuisine (which can be a little daunting to some). And for those who are already fans, Saffron is a quick, cheap, tasty and filling way to satisfy Indian food urges. I'm already planning my return trip...