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Westmont's Saffron Indian cuisine satisfies novice and experts alike

WESTMONT – In a quiet unassuming strip mall sits a delightful, family-run Indian restaurant named Saffron. While the spice derived from the fall-blooming saffron crocus requires a harvest of 75,000 flowers to produce one pound valued up to $5,000, Westmont's own Saffron is much more affordable and easily attainable.

Saffron has been creating flavorful Indian dishes in this area for 12 years. The ownership realignment some three years ago brought Saffron to its current location and provided several positive results.

The stylish interior is simply appointed with clean lines and comfortable seating. The new chef, Farid Qureshi, a long-time friend of the owner, arrived to take over kitchen duties and lend his Northern Indian expertise.

But perhaps the biggest change is the constant family supervision by the Roy family. Prasenjit Roy – Roy to everyone – and his lovely wife or son, Roy Jr., are almost always on site and together, their love of Indian cuisine is readily apparent. As they make the rounds, I encourage you to ask questions or for recommendations – and perhaps a story or two!

Saffron is perfect for Indian food novices and expert tastes alike.

For beginners, Roy and his son will gladly guide you through the elaborate menu determining dietary restrictions, heat levels and preferred food groups. Indian food experts will appreciate the wide ranging menu as well as the kitchen’s ability to respond to special requests.

As you peruse the menu, a sampler of Indian “chips and salsa” arrives. The “chips” are crispy and wafer thin flatbreads made from dried lentil flour. Accompanied by condiments - dark sweet tamarind, tangy green mint and cilantro and a spicy red chili, all three pair nicely alone or in combination with the lentil chips. Do not relinquish these tiny bowls of flavor as they also provide a nice accompaniment to appetizers and the fantastic Indian breads still to come.

If you need a bit more time on the menu, Indian nachos pair nicely with Saffron’s Taj Mahal lager. Masala Papad utilizes lentil chip pieces and tops them with masala (Indian spice mix), chopped onions, green chilies, tomatoes and coriander leaves. Fresh, light and not a trace of oil, these burst in your mouth similar to a fresh pico de gallo.

Vegetable samosas are Saffron’s most popular appetizer and the fritter like starter decorates most tables. I prefer to begin with Pakora, which utilizes ground chick peas for its batter. While Chicken Pakora is similar to chicken fingers, the similarities end quickly. The chicken is first marinated overnight before spending time in the tandoori oven. After resting, the chicken is battered and fried resulting in a noticeable and welcome difference as the lighter than tempura coating arrives oil free.

With several choices available such as onion, banana pepper or potato, the Spinach Pakora instantly became our table favorite. Individual spinach leaves are dipped in the light, chick pea batter, flash fried and served warm. Both pakoras take on new flavor profiles when mixed with the initially served condiment tray.

Grilled Shrimp, as well as most dishes, are presented in small, metal serving bowls. This presentation results in the food staying hot and continually bathed in the aromatic and flavorful sauce of your dish. Grilled shrimp are joined by onions, tomatoes, garlic, ginger and spices to create a non-spicy dish perfect for beginners and savory enough for experts.

Another great beginner dish is the Saffron Special Murg (chicken) Tikka Masala. Arguably the most famous Indian dish, chicken breasts are marinated, tandoori roasted and combined with a creamy tomato sauce that takes on a new flavor with the addition of cashew nut and almond paste. Along with the Grilled Shrimp, you’ve got Indian 101 for dinner.

Stepping up a notch, Bhuna Gosht combines chunks of marinated, tandoori roasted lamb with onions and tomatoes in a rich and highly aromatic sauce. When presented, the fragrance of this dish hypnotized the table into relaxed smiles and soft ooohs and aaahs. Bring on the naan!

Side dishes are also enjoyable with Saag Paneer at the top of the list. Spinach is cooked down and then combined in a food processor with spices and fresh cream for a light blending. The resulting mix is a chunkier style of creamed spinach. Fresh, uncured farmers cheese is added yielding an even fuller bodied and creamier dish.

While highlights abound, our favorite dish was the half order of Tandoori Lamb Chops. Nestled on a bed of lightly sautéed yellow peppers, carrots and onions with a bit of lemon, the chops were marinated in ginger and spices before being seared and roasted in the tandoori oven. The marinade had charred slightly forming a crust that kept the chops moist and perfectly cooked. We all experienced an explosion of flavors on the first bite and with four at the table, a near chop fight over the three!

Indian dishes require rice to fully appreciate and utilize the flavorful sauces. While more complex rice dishes are available, we went basic. Kesari Pulav or the Saffron Special consists of long grained basmati rice intertwined with golden strands of saffron along with bits of coriander and cumin. This rice selection is simple, flavorful and able to withstand each of the sauces nicely.

To many, the first food of India is their famous bread or Naan. Naan is prepared by rolling wheat flour dough into the correct thickness before it is tossed against the side of the fiery hot clay tandoori oven. Soft and bubbly on the top, the bottom takes on a light char resulting in the perfect chew.

With over a menu page of options, garlic or onion naan are two of the most basic choices with the seasonings added before cooking ensuring the flavors roast into the naan. Khurmi Naan takes it up a notch with the inclusion of garlic, tomato, chili and spices. Whether you dip the naan in entree sauce(s), a condiment or wrap a bit of lamb or chicken from your entree in a torn off piece, this is no holds barred eating goodness!

Desserts include a refreshing pistachio and saffron ice cream as well as the unique Gajar Ka Halwa. Together, the desserts pair cool with creamy while satisfying all levels of sweet.

Gajar Ka Halwa slow cooks grated carrots and milk until a paste like consistency is achieved. The slow cooking process releases the sweetness of the carrots creating a perfect ending to our Indian meal. A simple topping of ground pistachios and cashews finishes this creamy dish.

Still hesitant to try Indian food, Saffron offers a $10 lunch buffet every day but Monday. This a great way to sample various dishes being careful to remember your favorites for your return trip for dinner. Saffron has full bar service and an adjoining banquet room for groups up to 125.

Saffron also provides catering for large scale Indian weddings and celebrations city wide such as Navy Pier, The Field Museum and others as well as many hotels including the Marriott group.

As Saffron’s website states, it all begins with a beautiful flower and beautiful thoughts. Combined with fresh ingredients, beautiful presentations and family love, the results are a colorful dining choice for Indian newbies and experts alike.

Saffron

WHERE: 6200 S. Cass Ave., Westmont

HOURS: Buffet Lunch is 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; dinner is 5 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; closed Mon

DRESS CODE: Casual

INFO: 630-769-9662 www.saffrondining.com

RESERVATIONS: Accepted

PARKING: Easy

NOISE FACTOR: Peaceful

PRICING: $$

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