505 Gretna Blvd.
Gretna, LA 70053
Napoleon's Rating: ***/*****
There are so few Indian restaurants in the area that when word of a new one gets around, those with a taste for curry and Indian spice quickly seek it out. Saffron NOLA raised some eyebrows too, though this isn't a conventional Indian restaurant and it's format is closer to a pop-up. The owners run a catering company and decided to add to that operation a one-day-a-week restaurant serving only on Fridays. It has distinctively Indian flavors, but blends them with French technique and Louisiana staples for something quite unique.
The restaurant is in a strip mall, and since it's only open one day a week it's easy for the place to slip off the radar screen. Still, once you get inside you'll find a handsome, comfortable dining room with tasteful décor and mellow lighting. It feels like an upscale café, perhaps more appropriate for a date than a meal with the whole family. It is a shame this restaurant isn't open more frequently.
Service is excellent. The staff knows the menu well, and they're able to explain unfamiliar dishes in compelling detail and make solid recommendations. The owners are right there working the room the whole time, ensuring a smooth-flowing evening.
Starters like aloo tikki (stuffed potato cakes) or the chicken tikka (grilled strips of marinated chicken) may be familiar enough from conventional Indian menus. But to put Saffron NOLA through its paces, start with specialties like tuna chimichurri, which is crusted with pepper and topped with a garlicky, herbaceous sauce, or tamarind shrimp, which is like a Indian version of New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp. The curried seafood gumbo is unique, and you'll want to order at least one basket of the traditional Indian flatbread naan for the table for dipping and dunking.
You don't often see beef and pork on Indian menus, but dishes like that are just part of the different beat Saffron NOLA keeps. So the filet is seasoned with Indian masala spices and pulled pork is prepared in the spicy vindaloo style, then served like a cross-cultural barbecue sandwich with spinach on a brioche bun. You can also get chicken tikka masala, roasted goat and grilled lamb chops marinated in rum, which is highly-recommended. Still, I'm more partial to the seafood choices here, thanks to the use of the familiar local catch prepared in unfamiliar ways. Tamarind shrimp from the appetizer list is done on a bigger scale as an entrée and for its Malabar fish the kitchen coats the night's Gulf fish with lentil flour, pan-fries it and adds a rich, mild, creamy-tasting curry. There are many vegetarian sides that you can assemble into a meatless combination plate. Preparations are tight, though there is a lot of cross over from the appetizers to the entrees and more variety between the two categories would be welcome.
There are a few traditional Indian flavors here worked into the dessert list, starting with the gulab jamun, a treat of fried dough with cardamom syrup. Another, the kulfi faluda, tops ice cream with fried sticks of rice noodle and adds pistachio and rose syrup.
There is a full bar and a short, though serviceable, wine list.
Most entrees are in the high teens or low twenties, with most appetizers running between $7 and $10. It's a little less pricey than a fine-dining bistro and seems in line with the quality and overall experience.
Saffron NOLA is unique and captivating, luring diners in with the promise of Indian flavor but then presenting it in original ways. The model is highly rewarding for adventurous eaters, though the major drawback here is the very limited window for sampling it on the restaurant's one-day-a-week schedule. Still, it's well worth seeking Saffron NOLA out for a meal unlike any other in town right now.