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.
The culinary craftspeople at Spice 9 Indian Cuisine synthesize subtle spiciness with authentic Indian dishes across a collection of menus. Starters such as the assorted vegetarian platter—a heap of seasonal-veggie fritters dusted in chickpea batter—ready palates for vegetable onslaughts ($6), and main courses such as the desi lamb chops ($18) or goat curry ($17) provide tenderly cooked alternatives to mundane meats. The subzi biryani blends saffron spices with basmati rice ($12), and the tandoori shrimp proffers jumbo oven-cooked shrimp to goad talkative mouths into the serene silence of chewing ($18).
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.
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.
The kitchen staff at Cafe Nirvana fuses together southern and northern Indian specialties, from tandoor chicken tikka cooked in a traditional clay overn to cottage cheese simmered in spicy sauce. The menu changes regularly, and it features vegetarian options.