- Alex Springer
When the modern world isn't literally plagued, a restaurant's takeout game has always played second fiddle to its dine-in one. When ordering takeout, you expect things to be a little off-kilter and messy, not to mention the experience of eating at your own kitchen table has a tendency to downgrade the ambiance.
Now that local restaurants have been forced to close their dine-in options, the takeout experience is all we really have if we want to explore new eateries and support local establishments—it's become the second-string quarterback who has to step in once the all-star takes a cheap shot to the knee. I've been a fan of ordering takeout at Saffron Circle (4594 W. Partridge Hill Lane, Ste. 140, Riverton, 801-206-4115, saffronvalley.com) for awhile now, but their preexisting skill in the takeout game is a godsend for those who crave a tasty and diverse meal in this age of social distancing.
The most recent addition to the Saffron Group's already impressive array of Indian restaurants—Saffron Valley, Saffron Bistro, Saffron Colonial and Saffron Canteen are its older siblings—Saffron Circle was inspired by love and romance. This leaves room for several Indian food classics, like golden chicken tikka masala and piles of oven-roasted naan, but it's easy to see the influence that romance and love had on the menu. Yes, Saffron Circle will definitely warrant a future visit for those of you looking for a new date night destination, but even the experience of unpacking our takeout order in these uncertain times colored my family's socially isolated evening with a most welcome dose of the feels.
We started with the butter chicken samosas ($8.95) the experience of which begins with a heady blast of aromatic spices. It dawns on me that one of the reasons I like Indian food as a takeout option, is because it doesn't take long for my kitchen to smell as good as the restaurant. This dish caught my eye because, though I love a traditional samosa, I love the idea of dousing them in buttery curry sauce even more. As much as I dig my samosas, their starchy stuffing can often hijack them into dry territory. Pairing them with a nice curry completely eliminates that possibility.
I also can't place an order for Indian food without getting some iteration of paneer, firm cubes of cheese grilled in a tandoori oven that are a worthy substitute for available proteins like chicken or lamb. Paneer is great in curry, but tonight we went for the hariyali paneer tikka ($12.95) that lets the paneer's subtle, tofu-like texture become the canvas for a herbaceous marinade of mint and cilantro. It's mild enough to be a great complement to some of the more spice-forward entrées, but the grilled peppers and onion keep things from getting too boring. The star of our takeout adventure was the hyderabadi biryani ($12.95, pictured), which is a giant portion of rice piled on top of tender roasted chicken. It embodies everything you want from a traditional Indian meal—just the right amount of spice and heat to tie the whole thing together.
Saffron Circle has also reinvented a few traditional Indian desserts. For example, the gulab jamun cheesecake ($6.95) adds sticky sweet rose-flavored doughnut balls to a slice of classic cheesecake. It's the kind of playful experimentation that happens throughout the restaurant's menu, plus I always appreciate when a dining establishment invests in its dessert menu.
While this is the kind of food that can really liven up an evening of social isolation, I must say I'm looking forward to visiting Saffron Circle in person for the Aunty's Assembly ($40). It's a tasting menu for two that comes with an optional wine pairing ($30) in which diners can create their own four-course meal from a series of tasty appetizers, main courses and desserts. I get a little giddy when restaurants throw down a culinary gauntlet like this, because it means they have the talent and swagger to showcase a few signature dishes. Confidence is the ultimate gastronomic aphrodisiac.
Though I'm already mapping out my schedule of restaurants to visit once it's safe to go outside and gather once more, this experience of social isolation has given me the opportunity to reevaluate the food service industry, especially as it relates to local restaurants like Saffron Circle. A pandemic event like the one we're currently experiencing can gut small establishments that rely on our patronage, which is why doing whatever you can to keep them afloat right now is extremely important. When things get back to normal, we can go back to our habit of ordering food for us. Right now, let's get into the habit of ordering food for them.