Saffron Grill: Mediterranean Goodies at an Indian Restaurant

After a pre-screening of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, we had in mind to return to Setsuna Japanese Restaurant to try some of their other things for dinner. But we would have been a half hour early before opening, not so appealing when the weather was windy and rainy. Driving along Northgate Way, we spotted Saffron Grill, whose sign advertises it as a Mediterranean restaurant. A quick look at the menu, however, establishes it as much more of an Indian restaurant with a small Mediterranean representation in the salads and entrées. Some quick research on the internet revealed that the owner previously operated Cedars, an Indian restaurant in the U District with the same nod toward Mediterranean cuisine, before moving to Northgate and opening Saffron. (Cedars is still operating, apparently under new management.) Interesting that Cedars’ name also suggests a Mediterranean provenance.

Despite Saffron’s scores of Indian selections, we split tabbouleh salad and shish taouk, but not before succumbing to tonight’s special cocktail, passionfruit mojito and a glass of Kingfisher on tap. The cocktail menu has drinks evoking mostly exotic names and places (such as Maharani Mojito, Mango Martini, Calcutta Pear Martini, Bangalor Rose Martini). The beer selection is extensive with bottles from all over the world. The many wine bottles filling the nooks along the west wall show a very respectable selection as well, including tonight’s special pour of Cougar Crest Estate Grown syrah. From all appearances, the mojito looked like a standard one, pale greenish in color from mulled mint leaves, but there was an unmistakeable passionfruit flavor. Made from a syrup, it was rather sweet but nonetheless tasty. The beer was smooth and ice cold.

Aside from the standard lemon juice and olive oil dressing, the tabbouleh had a savory note. I couldn’t figure out what was responsible. The waitress couldn’t (or didn’t) offer an explanation. The parsley was very finely minced with chopped tomato, bulgur and green onions adding support. This was a nicely balanced tabbouleh, not as puckeringly lemony as Omar’s used to make it, but more refined—in short, a fine salad (☆☆☆).

Splendid was Saffron’s shish taouk version, five whole boneless chicken thighs alternating with green bell peppers on a large bamboo skewer, and grilled (or possibly baked in a tandoor). Our utensils did not include a knife, so we were faced with using only our forks to cut the chicken. It was so moist and tender that a knife was in fact unnecessary, though we did still ask for one. The lemon-yogurt marinade did an outstanding job of tenderizing and flavoring the chicken. The chicken’s golden tint suggested turmeric. The toum, creamy, garlicky and delicious, was a thin aioli with bright acidity. Oddly (but maybe not so much), the accompanying rice was basmati with Indian flavors, mixed with zucchini, carrots and potatoes. Even if the rice was quite ordinary, the taouk itself was worth getting again (☆☆☆½).

Our dinner was topped off with a cardamom and saffron ice cream. All I can say is delish (☆☆☆½)!

As the evening wore on, the restaurant began to fill up, obviously a popular venue to attract this kind of patronage on a Wednesday evening. The happy hour menu is quite extensive, with examples from both the subcontinent and the Mediterranean, ranging in price from $3.99 to $7.99, served everyday, 2-7pm.

Saffron Grill
2132 N Northgate Way
Seattle, WA 98133

Chef’s Choice at Café Munir

I was seriously bummed when Omar al Khyam in Renton closed its doors. I had been going there since my early working days in the Seattle area. It was my first introduction to Lebanese food and I loved it. Here is where I had my first hummusbaba ghanouj, shish tawouk, tabbouleh. I would have these over and over again through the years. Lebanese cuisine makes liberal use of vegetables, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, spices and herbs, which explains much of the appeal to our family. So, when Omar’s decided to call it quits, I began to wonder when I’d have good Lebanese food again.

Recently, my daughter mentioned that a new Lebanese restaurant took over the spot previously occupied by Gabriel’s Fire, which served barbecue, and that word has been good about their food. Located in Loyal Heights (a subdivision of Ballard), she and I went there for dinner tonight. Even without a reservation (and one is probably recommended), we were seated immediately. The interior is simply decorated—white walls accented with paintings and textiles. The tables are covered in white linens though there is no air of stuffiness here. The whole place exudes warmth and hospitality. The restaurant is Chef Rajah Gargour’s attempt to serve the foods he grew up with during his childhood in Lebanon. There is also a full-service bar, rather unusual in a Lebanese (let alone Mediterranean) restaurant, that boasts over 100 kinds of whisky.

As this was Sunday, it was the Chef’s Choice fixed price meal. Good enough. No wondering what to get. For $20 per adult, you get a spread of small plates, including a main entrée and dessert. The only thing we had to pick was the wine (not included), Chateau Ksara’s Blanc de Blanc (☆☆☆), a flavorful white blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and semillon, made in the Bekaa Valley.
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