Many people would consider warm carrot pudding an adventurous dish, but at Saffron Indian Cuisine, the gajar halwa isn't even on the avant-garde section of the menu. Rather, the traditional Indian dessert joins other Northern Indian classics, including palak paneer combined with fresh spinach and homemade cheese. The shrimp vindaloo is another standout with a sauce so painstakingly balanced, you can offset its mix of tangy and spicy by eating a spoonful of basmati rice or having a friend gently blow into your mouth. As for that avant-garde section, it's where Chef Mahesh—who has worked in multiple 5-star hotels in India—shows off his ability to experiment and invent. His paneer nirvana, for instance, mixes cheese and grilled vegetables in a punchy red-pepper sauce, whereas the sea bass bahaar wears a cloak of coconut-sesame-cashew sauce.
To the chefs at Mantra, atmosphere is nearly as important as taste. That’s why they serve contemporary and traditional Indian cuisine against a vibrant red floor, energetic pink mural, and eclectic array of artwork. Potatoes and peas fill the deep recesses of warm, deep-fried samosas, and lettuce wraps cradle tandoori mushrooms, paneer, and sprouts. Transported to tables via an utterly silent elephant in the room, entrees satisfy appetites via lamb vindaloo's spicy sauces and murgh tikka masala's ginger-and-garlic-marinated tandoori chicken. Finally, delectable desserts assuage sweet teeth with mango-flavored mousse, milk dumplings in rose-flavored syrups, or a carrot pudding sculpted into the diner's favorite geographical region. Sleek tables and chairs parade their modern lines across the restaurant's elegant dining room, which makes for an ideal setting for a first date, second platonic dinner, or third attempt to find lukewarm porridge.
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.
Realizing the region's dearth of Indian eateries, the owners of Shalimar Tandoor Grill and Bar opened their doors to give their friends and neighbors a first or umpteenth taste of the subcontinent's cuisine. The decadent dining room of deep red booths and walls hosts a panoply of vibrant spices and rich aromas that emanate from curries, kebabs, and tandoor-grilled dishes custom-spiced to four levels of heat. To cool down tongues and thwart the growth of uvula cactus patches, the owners added a full bar stocked with domestic and Indian beers and an impressive list of classic and house cocktails infused with an Indian twist.
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.
Curry is a major player in the kitchen at India Garden Restaurant, but it's not the powdered curry that you'll find in a grocery store. Here, "curry" means zesty vindaloo and tikka masala sauces freshly blended and spiced to each guest's preference. These sauces typically dress plates of lamb, shrimp, and chicken roasted in a clay tandoor oven, but the menu isn't totally meat-centric. India Garden's chefs also craft vegetarian dishes so spicy that each could start a fire; as a precautionary measure, pair yours with an imported Indian beer.