Saffron, the exquisitely expensive and piquant yellow spice derived from the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus flower, is also the name of Norwalk's newest restaurant, not quite exquisitely expensive, which opened last week on Westport Avenue.
The simple but welcoming eatery is easy to spot from busy Westport Avenue: Just look for the saffron-yellow sign at the entrance to the shopping plaza at No. 333.
Norwalk resident Nancy DiDia was an opening-day diner. Driving home from a workout, she noticed the lights were on at the venue she used to frequent when Middle Eastern fare was served.
"I'm thrilled to discover an Indian restaurant where the food is made with care and the hostess wants to make sure everyone's happy, like the service you find on Washington Street in SoNo but don't expect on Westport Avenue, with all its fast-food establishments," she said.
DiDia had the opportunity to compliment the chef himself, Sandeep Kakkar, a native of northern India who was hired from home out of a field of many candidates.
"I'm a foodie!" she declared, appreciatively noting that the spices in her boneless chicken Tandoori delivered a little kick and the preparation was "perfect! superb! not too oily!"
Kakkar accepted the praise graciously and extolled the myriad virtues of saffron, which is used in cultural ceremonies as well as a medicinal aid in the Punjab region of India, he said.
And it's a mainstay of many of the dishes on the menu.
Pinky Kaur, also from the Punjab, is a partner in the family business that opened Saffron. On opening day, she served as hostess, a role she studied as a hospitality major at a small New Hampshire college and has practiced at leading hotels in Stamford and New Haven.
The family's goal at Saffron is to serve good-tasting, healthy, authentic Indian meals.
In antiquity, Kaur said, the people of India were exclusively vegetarians. They considered animals sacred and the killing of animals for food a sin.
But waves of conquests by outsiders introduced cuisines that included lamb and beef and chicken, as well as cream and nuts.
Saffron's menu reflects the cultural evolution, offering an extensive lineup of vegetarian appetizers and entrees, as well as chicken, lamb and seafood repasts.
Lentils, dumplings, roasted eggplant and chickpeas are served in traditional combinations, many with bases of buttered tomato gravies.
Some dishes date to the 16th century—the era of the "King of Mughlai" cuisine—such as the Chicken Shahi Korma and the Lamb Rogan Josh.
Seafood is prepared Goan-style (in a coconut gravy), as well as in curry sauce. The Shrimp Korma is called a modern variation of the Mughlai cuisine, with shrimp gravy prepared with ground spices and a sauce simmered with yogurt and cream. Patrons can request the chef to add fire to their selections.
Kaur said a daily luncheon buffet will offer low-fat, high protein vegetarian and non-vegetarian platters with less than 2 grams of fat per serving.
"We aren't going to compromise on our authenticity and we will use only fresh food," she said. "Our chef refuses to use canned tomatoes—only fresh will do."
Saffron is located at 333 Westport Ave. in Norwalk. Tel. 203-295-8393. Lunch buffet is served on weekdays from 12 noon to 2:30 p.m., weekends from noon to 3 p.m. Dinner is served Monday to Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m.
Editor's note: For other recent articles on Indian food establishments in and around the area, please see: