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RESTAURANT REVIEW

Saffron -- Indian Jewel

Indian Fusion that Lives Up To Its Name

By Scott Lee

Staff Writer

Saffron

279A Newbury St.

Back Bay, Boston

617-536-9766

Saffron is a spice derived from the fall-flowering plant of the same name that is native to Asia minor. For centuries it has been prized as one of the most precious ingredients of cooking in the old world. It is estimated that the stigmas of 4,000 flowers are required to make one ounce of saffron powder. Such a name for a restaurant lends itself to high expectations of the cuisine to come.

I visited Saffron in the middle of the day, during the hustle and bustle of a Newbury Street crowd. The open patio seating on this street makes for some interesting people-watching, and, during the summer months, it is particularly pleasant. That is, of course, if you bring your own sunblock. Some of the tables are without parasols, and if you prefer not to get skin cancer from Saffron, you might want to move inside or get a shaded seat.

Once comfortably seated at one of the many shiny metallic tables surrounded by a hedge of protective shrubbery, a menu of both traditional Indian and Western fusion cuisines is brought out. I tried a variety of appetizers, soup, and entrÉes from both the American and Indian sides of the menu.

Of the appetizers, the chicken chaat was the standout. It was an atypical preparation of chaat, a light meat salad dish mixed with a cucumber and yogurt sauce. The addition of extra spices created a dish with zing, more zing than the simple creation of a traditional acidic base. The shrimp maseladar was flavorful and well prepared. Though the garlic and ginger were not prominent, the crunch of the poori bread and the oiled vegetables created a nice gustatory texture.

The presentation of the entrÉes was most impressive. The artistry of the paneer ravioli was evident by the use of four or five colors in creating a well-balanced work of art. The sweet aroma and juxtaposition of the ravioli beneath a crisp and dry, deep-fried leek, created a successful entrÉe.

The vindaloo pork chop was another dish that was presented skillfully. When I think of vindaloo, however, I think of burn-your-tongue-off spiciness. This was a mild rendition of a vindaloo dish, using maybe a pinch of the spice, which only required maybe one glass of wine to clear my palate.

The halibut was very fresh, with the appropriate amount of coriander and cumin. This may have been the best fusion dish, as it effectively balanced the old world with new-world flavors. Cooked perfectly, it had a nice gelatinous center that melted deliciously. The tomatoes accentuated the dish with a tartness that complemented the beans and fish.

The tandoori at Saffron was relatively standard. There were no surprises here. The quality of the dishes was up to par and the meat was neither overly juicy nor dry. The portions were large and were more than sufficient for a person’s weekly dose of tandoori.

Of the breads, the aloo paratha and garlic naan were fresh and made well. The aroma of the garlic wafting to Newbury Street was enough to turn the heads of many Gucci-clad pedestrians. These delicious breads were nice accompaniments to the meal.

Dessert concluded with the kulfi (a type of pistachio ice cream), which was beautifully prepared. Many fruits were purÉed to create a rainbow of flavor and color that was placed beneath a base of noodles and cardamon-infused scoops of kulfi. It tasted fine, but the vermicelli was mysterious -- is it a garnish or not?

Saffron’s decor is thoughtful and tasteful and the dishes were exquisite creations of taste and presentation. The dessert alone was an outstanding and addictive fare. Saffron’s excellent service, atmosphere, and food is a welcome jewel on Newbury Street.