Saffron Indian Cuisine is named for saffron, a precious and flavorful spice that has been seasoning traditional Indian dishes since ancient times. In the restaurant's kitchen, chefs fold this and other exotic spices into a variety of time-honored recipes, from creamy paneer to savory tandoori items to piquant curry dishes. They bake juicy morsels of chicken, lamb, and shrimp in the fiery flames of their authentic clay tandoor oven, right alongside naan, kulcha, and roti breads. Pots of lentil soup and fragrant biryani rice simmer on the stove.
Servers bring plates of Indian dishes and cups of chai tea into the elegant dining hall, where light streams in through tall windows. Artwork speckles the pristine white walls, depicting traditional Indian scenes such as an exotic bird drinking from a jungle stream and a long-haired sitar player who used to work at an advertisement agency in Cleveland.
Chefs at Tandoor Indian Restaurant draw on the culinary traditions of India's northern Punjab region, an area known for complex flavors and vibrant presentation. Though lamb curry, chicken tikka masala, and meat samosas have always been a staple at the eatery, a recent renovation has reinforced the feeling of stepping onto another continent. “Following the aroma of classic Indian spices you arrive at a completely refurbished place,” says the Chapel Hill News, “filled with mythological art and sculpture, newly painted doorways, metal bird sculptures and butterfly topiaries as well as new booths, rugs, curtains, covers and cushions.”
The lilting, tangled choruses of Bollywood videos drift from televisions above the paisley booths. In the kitchen, chefs work quickly around a clay tandoori oven filled with licking flames, much like a pyromaniac’s vacation slideshow. Mango-chutney cheesecake and other colorful dishes match a dining room, which the Independent Weekly says “is filled with vibrant colors inspired by owner Binda Bhupal's homeland: mango orange, Kashmiri hot pink, Bombay yellow, peacock blue.”
At Mint Indian Cuisine, it's the smallest parts of the dish that matter—the spices. With marinades, chefs infuse their meals with loud or subtle flavors that ring through the mouth like edible symphonies. A secret mixture of Indian seasonings soaks into their signature dish, the Mint chicken kebab, for a full night before the food gurus heat it in the tandoor oven. That oven also pours out freshly baked naan, which meets the standards of full flavor by donning layers of garlic or rosemary. Pounded spices accompany handpicked spinach and seasonal ingredients in vegetarian platters, which act as zestier alternatives to meat than imaginary steaks.
With so many herbs and flavors at its disposal, the kitchen experiments with Indian staples and more obscure dishes alike. Chefs cover the chicken tropical tang, for example, with a raw mango paste and a light coat of spices, simultaneously evoking and augmenting West Indian traditions. Guests can sample this and other dishes that range from fiery to sweet while live sitar music spreads a sense of serenity throughout a dining room accented by white tablecloths.
The chefs at Paradise India Cuisine use traditional techniques and ingredients shipped directly from India to craft their dum biryanis. That kind of authentic touch spreads across their menu replete with classic fare such as Chettinad goat curry, lamb vindaloo, and chicken tikka masala. To add a modern touch to their feast-worthy collection of classic cuisine, they now cook up crab, variety of dosas and authentic indo-chinese items such as chilli chicken, manchurians and noodles, and fried rice.
The cooks at Cool Breeze subvert many of the clichés of Indian cuisine, creating an all-vegetarian menu stocked with chaat—small-plate snack foods—as well as South Indian dishes. Diners can enjoy a multitude of curries and chickpea dishes, or dig into desserts such as Indian butterscotch ice cream.
At the newly opened Guru India Restaurant, head chef and proprietor Narinder Singh simmers and seasons an extensive spread of authentic Indian cuisine. Chef Singh’s special dinner kicks off with spice-dusted, deep-fried bites of shrimp pakora before running palates through a delicious gauntlet of the creamy nav rattan korma’s nine vegetables. Next, diners flex jaw muscles around a hearty helping of flame-licked meats with a plate of tandoori mix grill. The tasty fish curry dances across taste buds, leaving a trail of complex spices and hopelessly lost Hansels and Gretels, and fluffy pieces of garlic naan and creamy bowls of the yogurt-like raita escort meals to their mouthwatering finish: sips of tea and a lip-smacking dessert.