Lavanya Mahate is a tall, striking woman who probably could have had a successful modeling career had she not chosen to take a more community-minded route. Until recently, she was program director of the Salt Lake Chamber Women’s Business Center and was named by Entrepreneur as one of “30 Women to Watch.” I met Mahate in 2010 at the Downtown Farmers Market, where she was sharing her passion for Indian spices. She’d launched a company called East India Pantry, selling spice blends, tea blends, flour blends, rice blends, whole spices and breakfast blends. She also frequently teaches cooking classes and now, at the urging of friends, family and students, she has opened her own restaurant: Saffron Valley Indian Street Foods, in South Jordan.
Saffron Valley is not your typical Indian restaurant. For starters, there are no paintings of Krishna or Ganesh, no sitar music and no incense. This eatery is a modern, slick, well-lit space that’s more Jetsons in design than Taj Mahal. Like Masala Grill in Sugar House, it’s a walk-up-to-the-counter-and-order affair. Pay, take a number and the food will be delivered promptly to your table—that is, if you can find a table. At noon on a recent Friday, the restaurant was so mobbed that some customers had to wait for the crowds to thin out before sitting down. A large percentage of the clientele at Saffron Valley is of Indian origin, which I take as a positive statement about the authenticity of the cuisine.
Options abound at Saffron Valley. The extensive menu offers a survey of Indian street food—the type of hand-held, on-the-go cuisine that you find everywhere in India. And Mahate has designed a menu that spans Indian cuisine from North to South and East to West, even peppering it with Indo-Chinese dishes, which she says are wildly popular in India. I tried a spicy and sweet Indo-Chinese dish of boneless chicken breast cooked in a fiery-but-sweet, tangy sauce of onions, garlic, red chilies and soy sauce that had a complex, appealing flavor. Other street foods include chaat (puri, samosas, pakoras, dabeli), a variety of kebabs, kati (Indian wraps), dosas (savory crepes), biryanis, flatbreads (parathas), curries and even India-influenced pizzas. To drink, there is cappuccino, espresso, tea, lattes, cold coffees, smoothies, lassis, frappes, shakes, floats, sodas and more.
A good way to get acquainted with Saffron Valley’s Indian Street Foods is to show up at lunchtime, when there’s an all-you-can-eat buffet ($8.99). Or, simply order off the menu, a la carte. A tasty place to begin is with one of the parathas—puffy Indian flatbreads ($4.99) stuffed with things like shredded chicken, mint and basil, paneer (homemade cheese similar to mozzarella), fresh cauliflower or potatoes and peas. For a sweet treat, try the naan stuffed with nuts, raisins and honey.
Kebabs are classic Indian street food, and the nawabi chicken kebab ($8.99) is a mainstay of Hyderabad cooking: tender chunks of boneless chicken breast marinated in yogurt and cooked with Indian spices and garlic in a clay oven. Kebabs come with a choice of two side dishes. If it’s available, try the battered and deep-fried onions—sort of an Indian take on good old onion rings. They’re impossible to resist.
Dosas come with lentil soup for dipping and chutney. A favorite is the ghee dosa ($5.99), which is a crisp crepe made with basmati rice and lentils, roasted and drizzled with clarified butter (ghee). It’s simple, but spectacular. Kati rolls are an Indian version of a wrap—Indian flatbread rolled with various fillings. The one you don’t want to miss is rogan josh, tender chunks of lamb tikka with onions, peppers and spinach ($7.99). Kati all come with a salad and the soup of the day.
The curries at Saffron Valley are some of the most complex and flavorful that I’ve ever had. Frankly, I was surprised how great they were—very happily surprised. The lamb vindaloo ($10.99) is simply the best I have ever tasted. Spoon-tender chunks of lean lamb and potatoes are bathed in a spicy and tangy curry with subtle hints of vinegar, cardamom, tomato and citrusy tamarind, served with basmati rice. Chicken saag was just as good: boneless chicken in a creamy paneer sauce with spinach, onions, tomatoes and spices. Rounding out a delicious curry hat trick was chicken tikka masala, a perfect rendition of the ultimate Indian takeout dish.
You want nouvelle? Saffron Valley does that, too. California Pizza Kitchen might want to take note of the chicken tandoori pizza ($7.99): Tandoori-grilled chunks of chicken in a zippy garlic-ginger sauce, with mozzarella cheese, scallions, julienned carrot, cilantro and pieces of mango. The paneer pizza features cheese, roasted corn, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, red onions and tomato sauce ($7.99). The pizzas are individual-size servings, six inches each.
Got room for dessert? They’ve got you covered there, as well. The flaky chocolate samosa ($3.99) is filled with semi-sweet chocolate, and kheer is sweet rice pudding flavored with Malabar cardamom. There is also traditional gulab jamun, a very popular dessert in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh: balls of dough made with non-fat dry milk, soaked in rosewater and cardamom-flavored syrup. Kids and grownups alike won’t be able to resist the Saffron Cookie Crunch ($3.99), which is cold coffee and fudge topped with whipped cream and chocolate chip cookies. On second thought, you might want to keep the kids away from the caffeine and steer them toward the homemade peppermint ice cream.
What a terrific addition Saffron Valley is to the South Valley dining scene. The only thing missing at this Indian street-food restaurant is the street.
SAFFRON VALLEY INDIAN
1098 W. South Jordan Parkway