A couple weeks ago, three people in the same week recommended Saffron Café to me. It has been on “the list” forever (someone actually recommended it to me the week it opened) so I figured it was some kind of sign that I needed to go. So we did.
We had looked at the menu online, as well as some of the comments people have made about it here and there on the web, and knew we wanted to try a couple of things—for starters the shrimp avocado and citrus salad ($8.95) and the antipasto plate ($10.95). We really enjoyed the antipasto plate, and it was a great way to try various things. It had hummus, bakoula, and zaalouk. So you are probably familiar with hummus, most people have had it these days. It is a spread made of pureed chickpeas with garlic, lemon and tahini (sesame paste). It had some diced tomatoes and kalamata olives on top as well as a chunk of feta cheese. I really like hummus and it was good hummus, not the best I have had and not the worst, but certainly serviceable. It was better with a bite of an olive at the same time or some of the cheese. Maybe that means it could use a bit of salt. Anyway, the other two items on the plate were very good. My favorite of the three was the zaalouk which is an eggplant spread—the eggplant was cooked until very soft with tomatoes and olive oil and lots of seasonings—I am sure there was some garlic in there. It was smooth and had that very squishy cooked eggplant consistency that was awesome for spreading on the warm triangles of toasted pita bread. The bakoula was a similarly cooked down spinach spread with onions and tomatoes and more spices. It had a very deep flavor from being cooked down so much—I liked it but a little certainly went a long way. This would be a good appetizer to share among even more than 2 people, although we did finish a lot of it.
I was pretty disappointed with the shrimp salad. The ingredients were fresh, and there was a ton of perfectly ripe avocado, but there was nothing bringing it together. And the only citrus around was a lot of lemon pieces that the other ingredients were sitting on top of. Basically, it was lemon wedges with slices of very good avocado, three large shrimp (think shrimp cocktail shrimp) and some kalamata olives. There was no dressing at all, or even a squeeze of citrus, and even the lime wedge in the description was missing. I certainly would not order this again. I expected more of a put together dish. I loved the kalamatas that were with everything though. They were yummy. I actually ordered a small plate of them, which they brought us, although there was a charge for them.
Hubby has had some mediocre to bad experiences with tajines in the past (which are pots that are traditional to slow cook meat in in Morocco), so we decided to go in other direction with our main dishes. We shared lamb kabobs ($14.95) and the Saffron mussels from the appetizer menu ($12.95). I asked if they cook the lamb to order and our server assured us they do, so I ordered them medium rare. Well, apparently the chef and server were not on the same page on this because about the time they went to start cooking them, there was a lot of yelling coming from the kitchen—apparently they are always cooked more on the well done spectrum, and this is what the chef thinks serves the food. After getting them (probably at about a medium temperature), I realized the meat used was a little fatty and probably benefited from longer cooking time. Some bites were really good and some were a little chewy. The seasoning on the outside of the meat was outstanding though—the meat was marinated in garlic, parsley and cilantro and grilled. It was a great flavor combination. It was served with your choice of saffron rice, couscous or roasted potatoes. I went with the couscous. There was a ton of it and it was very lightly seasoned with a saffron flavor (although very brightly colored from it). A bit of it was nice with the meat, but there was a lot more on the plate than anyone probably really eats.
The mussels were also very good. I am usually hesitant about ordering mussels at very many places, but when our server was describing various things, he said the mussels were fresh daily, so I risked it. They were pretty large mussels, but were very tender and the creamy white wine and garlic was rich, but not overwhelming because of the flavor of the wine and garlic. Oh! And the bread they brought with the meal was delicious—light and soft with a great crust. It was really good dipped into the sauce on the mussels.
We randomly went on a Thursday night which also happens to be belly dancing night there—they have a dancer that performs in the middle of the room. I have to say, I was impressed at how much she did in such a limited space. The restaurant is small, but the dining room was very clean and really cute—they did a really good job decorating it with a Moroccan theme. The outside is lovely too—it is painted with great detail with Moroccan scenes. Service was very friendly, if not a little over-informative. Our server wanted to explain pretty much everything to us, and after awhile, I really just wanted to order. But we enjoyed ourselves, and I think this is a place that is nice to go to have something different, and ethnic, but still feel like you are in a nice restaurant with tablecloths and a professional staff. While Indy has a ton of great ethnic cuisine, there are not a lot of places that are anything but totally casual. Which is fine, but sometimes it is nice to be able to get the best of both worlds.
621 Ft. Wayne Avenue