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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Exploring India's culinary intricacies

Posted By on Tue, Jul 31, 2012 at 6:02 PM

Crabmeat pudha and aloo tikki at Saffron NOLA.
  • Ian McNulty
  • Crabmeat pudha and aloo tikki at Saffron NOLA.

Saffron NOLA
serves the most inventive Indian food in the area, melding traditional flavors from the subcontinent with techniques and ingredients more akin to a contemporary Creole bistro. It’s well worth seeking out in its well-hidden little slot in a Gretna strip mall.

There’s one problem though. The restaurant is normally open only on Friday evenings, a function of the catering and other work responsibilities of its busy family owners. Recently, however, Saffron NOLA has started a once-a-month series of Sunday brunches, each of which focuses on different regional cooking styles of India.

“India used to be all different kingdoms before the British came, and each was like a different country. Different languages, different architecture, different clothes and different food too,” says Arvinder Vilkhu, who runs Saffron NOLA with his wife Pardeep and their family. “So our mission with these brunches is to capture one region at a time.”

The next such brunch is scheduled for Aug. 12 and will feature the cuisine of Kerala, the southernmost state along India’s western coast.

At least a half-dozen salads and hot dishes will be served buffet style, while the savory pancakes and fermented crepes of the region will be prepared to order. Vilkhu describes the cooking of Kerala as more mild and lighter than the Indian food most people have access to locally. Much of the umph, he explains, comes from garnishes like pickled shrimp, eggplant and other vegetables, which they’re busy preparing now. Coconuts flourish in Kerala, and during its brunch Saffron NOLA will be mixing martinis with coconut water and curry leaf. The restaurant has a full bar.

Reservations are required and seatings are available between 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The cost is $30 per person.

The brunch series continues this fall through different regions. In September, the restaurant will feature a brunch of Telugu cuisine from the Andhra region in southeastern India, which blends influences from Muslim and Hindu customs. Then in October, as the weather (hopefully) grows a little cooler, Saffron NOLA will serve the street food of Punjab, the northern Indian region that is also Vilkhu’s homeland.

“There’s a lot more nuts, raisins and butter in this cooking, it’s heartier, so we think that will be better in the fall,” he says.

For menus and specific dates for these brunches, check for updates on Saffron NOLA’s Web site.

Aside from these brunches, Saffron NOLA is open only on Fridays, from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Saffron NOLA

505 Gretna Blvd., Gretna, 363-2174

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