Spicing Up Vernon Hills: Saffron Indian Cuisine

It’s a spicy little place for a strip mall.

Wedged in next to Dominick’s in the Hawthorne Village Commons, Saffron—according to their menu— “will tantalize your senses and transport you to the land of myriad colors and flavors.” While not quite transported, we had an enjoyable lunch there, including their large buffet ($9.95).

The thing about the standard Indian lunch buffet is that you don’t really get to see each dish at its hottest, or the pakora and other fried foods at their crispiest. It does, however, give you a picture of the restaurant’s spicing and flavors. I’ve included a la carte prices for each dish if you decide to skip the buffet.

The Vegetable Samosas ($2.95), stuffed with mashed potatoes and peas, were well seasoned and grease-free; the Pakora (vegetables dipped in spiced batter and fried) did not fare as well, at least on the buffet. They were limp and lifeless.

A basket of hot and tasty fresh Naan ($1.95) was brought to the table. We supplemented with some additional breads, as they are such an important part of the meal! The Tandoori Roti ($1.95) was not as thin as some I’ve had, and the Aloo Parantha ($2.95), stuffed with potatoes and coriander, was a little bland.

The Tandoori Chicken ($7.95/14.95) was a vivid shade of red from its marinade, and the meat was moist, surrounded by grilled green peppers and onions. A squeeze of lemon really brought it to life. The Shrimp Masala (ordered a la carte, $14.95) was the best dish we sampled, with a generous portion of shrimp and a rich and piquant sauce, a nice complement to the saffron rice.

The Mattar Paneer ($9.95), green peas cooked with homemade cottage cheese in a spiced mild onion and tomato sauce, was too sweet; I much prefer the Saag Paneer, a similar dish made with spinach. Cauliflower took center stage in the Aloo Gobi Masala ($9.95), a classic vegetarian dish.

Condiments were a mixed bag: the tamarind sauce was red, not the usual brown, and sickly sweet, but the green coriander/mint chutney was clean tasting with a little heat. The Raita (a yogurt sauce with cucumber and garlic) was a thinner version than I’m used to, but serviceable.

We were disappointed that the Gulab Jamun (a fried dough served in syrup… kind of a doughnut hole) was no longer available although it was still on the menu. A few sips of Mango Lassi (available either salty or sweet) served as dessert.

Certainly the buffet is well-priced and varied, but competition among Indian restaurants is stepping up throughout the northern suburbs, and Saffron will need to work a little harder to catch up.