We don’t often get the opportunity here in Southwest Montana to experience the colors, tastes, and intense spice blends of India and South Asia. As soon as word of the new restaurant located in the old La Chatelaine Chocolat building at 1511 West Babcock was announced, I could hear all of Bozeman’s adventurous eaters, vegetarians, spice lovers, and masala cravers cheering and itching for a taste. Now with the addition of Saffron Table to our diverse and increasingly sophisticated food scene, Bozemanites no longer have an excuse not to add to their culinary vocabularies samosa, naan, biryani, and vindaloo.
From only having experienced this type of cuisine as a premade freezer dinner, I tried to contain my excitement as we walked into the bustling restaurant on a Saturday night. It was fairly easy to make a reservation online, but I get the impression they are just as happy to make one with you over the phone or accommodate walk-ins. Arriving just before 8pm, dinner service was in full swing.
We were greeted immediately at the door by a cheerful staffer who asked for the name on my reservation, and without even needing to check a list immediately escorted us to a small table for two in the middle of the packed dining room.
The décor struck me as modern but also warm and welcoming. The dining room is clean and comfortable with a small bar directly ahead from the entrance, a bank of window seats to the right, and a majority of the seating at low tables to the left fanning out from old fireplace stone. A couple of people sat up at their bar, but most everyone was in the small dining room. We were surrounded by a variety of people from finely tailored professionals, lovers intimately embracing large wine glasses, and a group of college kids out for a good time.
The menu is small and straight forward with a series of appetizers and street foods at the top, small plates in the middle and a few larger entrees at the bottom. The back of the menu is devoted to wines, beers and beverages. We were informed disappointingly that it was too late for their curry in a hurry which had already sold out. They use the entrée as a rotating special to showcase an aspect of their menu, special protein, or new preparation.
The service blew me away. With the exception of one order snafu, the staff was very professional and sincere. Our server was attentive and well educated on all of the menu items and preparations. She was always happy to answer all our questions about anything we didn’t understand, making us feel at ease. She knew what we wanted before we asked and it is perhaps the best service I have experienced in a very very long time.
Being intense fans of Chang’s famed steamed duck bun, we immediately notice the Lamb Vindaloo Buns and knew we have to order that. To counter these soft pillows of curried meat, we also order the Bhel Puri, a crunchy plate of dressed flour crisps and chickpea noodles. We decided to just start with these to give us more time to peruse our options in the entrée section.
The only way to describe the Bhel Puri is as little crispy bubbles of heaven. Not spicy, but salty, sweet and tangy with the soft crunch of fresh fried dough, we found ourselves fighting over the last one. The dough on the steamed buns was a fluffy and delightful compliment to the aromatic meat, sour cucumber and cool yogurt sauce inside.
I don’t often get the opportunity to enjoy an all veggie meal that is both flavorful and satisfying so I decided to order the Vegetable Biryani billed on the menu as a “stew of saffron, tomato, onion, dried plum, black cardamom, [and] seasonal vegetables.” When I ordered this our server gave me a stern warning that the Biryani was extra spicy, but I was confident in my ability to enjoy this dish and ordering it made me feel solid in my commitment to enjoy every aspect of their menu.
The stew arrived in a steaming silver bowl and boy did it pack a punch, not an up-front assault but in a slow build of warmth that left me asking for another side of the raita yogurt sauce to tame the fire. The intense roasted cardamom and vegetable flavors interlaced the heat and added a depth of flavor I haven’t previously found in a vegetarian dish.
The Lamb entrée was consummately braised and melt in your mouth tender. Even though the other dishes were beautiful, it represented the best presentation yet with the meat covering a bed of lentils and carrots and ringed by a bright green pea puree. We ate every last bite in the bowl.
The naan bread, oh man the naan bread! One cannot simply visit a restaurant that claims to have its own tandoor without ordering tandoori baked Naan bread. If you’re not familiar with a tandoor oven, it is an incredibly hot cylindrical clay pot where dough is applied directly to the inside wall of the oven where it bakes, chars and bubbles before being skillfully plucked and served piping hot. Our naan was chewy, crispy, soft, garlicky and sweet. Our garlic naan order came with three large pieces and it took some serious willpower to resist the urge to order two more plates in the cheese and onion varieties.
While the Bozeman food scene does showcase many different cultural cuisines it still has a long way to go in its representation of many world regions. With the Saffron Table we have taken another giant step in the right direction. Not wanting to call it a cultural blend or a fusion restaurant, Saffron Table perfectly layers local Bozeman ingredients with Indian preparations without leaving either watered down.
I was told by our server that the in house spice blends and recipes were passed down from the owner’s family in the Punjab region of India. Lucky for us owner Andleeb has chosen our small city to bestow her family’s legacy of curries, masalas and chutneys. Whether you’re looking to experience a new world of flavor, or revisit something familiar from a world away Saffron Table is a must visit.