By Katie Thomas Explore Big Sky Contributor
Saffron: An orange-yellow spice used in cooking, made from the dried stigmas of a crocus plant.
BOZEMAN – At long last, Bozeman can offer contemporary South Asian cuisine. Nicholas Harris and Andleeb Dawood opened Saffron Table in late May at 1511 West Babcock Street. Tucked into the cluster of historic structures that comprise the original Kirk Homestead, the proprietors bring more than just saffron to the table.
Dawood is from Pakistan and draws most of Saffron Table’s recipes directly from her family. “My mother is an amazing cook,” she says. “My sister and I both cook, but we’ll all make the same recipe a little differently.” Saffron’s chef, Rick Hilles, is most recently from Sun Valley, Idaho, and sharpened his culinary skills and knives at such places as the famous French Laundry in California before being recruited by Dawood.
“‘Indian food’ means something different to everyone,” Dawood said. “My family is from India, but Saffron Table offers ‘South Asian’ cuisine, which is more than just one culture’s – this reflects India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal [and] Bhutan.”
At this establishment, “Indian food” means paradise. The menu is broken into “Crispy Bites & Streetfood to Share,” “Smalls & In-Betweens to Start With,” and “Mains to Dive Into,” with a “Naan & Raita” section following. Many of the dishes are naturally gluten-free, and questions are encouraged. The servers can explain to you in detail the sources and preparations of the meats, for example, from local ranches – something heavily emphasized at Saffron.
My group and I tasted much of what Saffron offers, after ordering wine (2012 Kris Pino Grigio, Delle Veniezie, Italy) and beer (the gluten-free Omission Pale Ale, Mount Hood, Oregon). From “Streetfood,” we recommend the Vegetable Pakoras (kale, cauliflower, and asparagus fritters in curried chickpea batter, served with mint chutney), and the Crispy Paneer (house-made goat cheese served with tamarind, mango, and mint chutneys). A paneer aficionado among us declared this dish “phenomenal.”
The Bhel Puri (flour crisps with crunchy chickpea noodles, tossed with yogurt and house-made chutneys) demonstrated the freshness of all Saffron’s chutneys, and the crunch of chickpea noodles is the ultimate satisfaction.
The entrée sampled, which goes by the fanciful handle “Curry in a Hurry,” is one of Andleeb’s family recipes. Served with either plain naan or basmati rice, this cardamomy curry dish rotates nightly, and on this night, was a chicken and potatoes dish. The dish appears small on arrival, but is appropriately filling thanks to its richness and spice.
Dessert with hot chai tea is the perfect finale after such a flavorful meal; the Chocolate Samosa (pastry-filled garam masala chocolate ganache, served with candied kumquats, house-made vanilla ice cream, and chocolate crumbs) couldn’t be more perfect.
And this is merely a slice of the Saffron Table menu; other must-tries include the Vegetable Biryani (a stew of saffron, tomato, vegetable, and spices with basmati rice) and the Willow Spring Lamb Shoulder (braised with a clove-cinnamon sauce and served with a vegetable puree).
A few items cost the eyes in your head, as the French say, but the Gallatin Valley of today is adjusting and will sustain it. It helps that Saffron boasts excellent service from the hostess to the owners, and even the most cautious, curry-fearing diner will be impressed.
Saffron Table is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 5 p.m. to close. Make reservations at saffrontable.com.