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Mellow yellow 

Stylish digs set the scene for a standard South Indian experience

click to enlarge Sand Lake subcontinental - Savory snacks galore, but not enough ghee at Saffron - ALDRIN CAPULONG
  • Aldrin Capulong
  • Sand Lake subcontinental - Savory snacks galore, but not enough ghee at Saffron

Saffron Indian Cuisine

7724 W. Sand Lake Road

While haute Indian cuisine rages across major metropolises of the world, the trend (unfortunately) has yet to catch on in Orlando. Our city teems with Indian restaurants pandering to palates craving more of the same, yet no kitchen has been bold enough to elevate and sustain the complexity factor – we see variations of the standards and not much else. So when Saffron Indian Cuisine swooped in to fill the beautiful space vacated by La Nuova Cucina on West Sand Lake Road, an opportunity presented itself to offer the area's sophisticated clientele Desi fare that set itself apart from the rest.

Everything seemed to be in place: a handsome, move-in-ready space on a heavily trafficked strip frequented by trendsters out for a posh meal. But when we perused the bill of fare (a lengthy list of dishes), it was quite clear that Saffron had no real intention of being an innovator in this glutted marketplace. What we sampled was, for the most part, well-executed, but at the end of the meal, I wasn't exactly mad about Saffron (and after reading this, Saffron likely won't be mad about me).

This isn't a restaurant that leaves an indelible impression, but the kitchen did churn out some first-rate dishes. We thoroughly enjoyed the patthari machli ($10), twin thin-cut slices of marinated salmon cooked on a hot stone. The polished granite stays in the kitchen; a tableside sear would've added a bit of pizazz to the otherwise staid presentation. Most of what we sampled on the assortment platter ($8) was top-notch, if traditional: aromatic samosa, crisp cauliflower pakora, onion bhajia and pan-grilled aloo (potato) tikki. Only ho-hum potato bhajias failed to arouse us.

There are scores of dishes – more than 50 (or two score and 10) by my count – from which to choose, and the adraki chaap ($22), a Punjabi specialty of tandoor-sizzled lamb chops marinated in yogurt, spices, ginger juice and rum, beckoned. While heavy on the ginger, the silky-soft chops were perfectly rendered. The same couldn't be said about the dry morsels of chicken in the Rajasthani hara mass ($16). The ginger, chili and cilantro gravy was nice, but the marinade didn't appear to tenderize the chicken – it was dry and tough. And I was taken aback when we were presented with naan ($3) sans ghee. Sans ghee! Naan without ghee is like a day without sunshine, so we got our server to butter them up until they glistened right proper.

As we sampled desserts, we noted that the sugar levels were a bit off. The falooda ($6), an ambrosial blend of vanilla ice cream, boiled vermicelli, rose-flavored milk, basil seeds and cream, wasn't sweet enough, while the duo of gulab jamun balls ($4) was too cloying to even finish. Thick, creamy chai ($3) served in Lavazza cappuccino cups (a holdover from the Nuova Cucina days) tasted as though it was prepared by Roman hands, not Indian ones – nary a hint of cardamom, cinnamon or clove. And thus our meal came to an end – pleasant, satisfactory and conventional.

For many, Saffron will be an agreeable 
new find. For us, Saffron presented an opportunity lost.

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