Saffron, whose scarlet threads infuse a dish with a unique salty-sweet fragrance (as well as a warm tangerine hue) can be an elusive spice. Its costliness and pungent strength prevent chefs from using it willy-nilly, which makes its occasional appearances even more exciting and enticing.
Saffron will never be the new truffle oil, thank God.
Here are five standout saffron dishes in Houston:
5. Sizzling Saffron Shrimp (Trenza). Newcomer to the Houston restaurant scene Trenza is already wowing H-towners with their colorful dishes, including its venerable "sizzling saffron shrimp," a small plate offering of prawns sauteed in saffron oil with ginger, garlic, and lemon zest. That's one appetizer I will NOT be sharing.
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4. Saffron Rice Pulao (Kiran's). The most common consumable manifestation saffron found in Houston is by far saffron rice, which acts as a side to mains of kebobs, grilled meats, and masalas at a number of our Indian, Pakistani, and Afghan restaurants. Kiran's bright saffron pulao, a type of rice pilaf, stands out for its impeccably fluffy texture and genius complementary components of cranberries and nuts.
3. Scallops with Saffron Sauce (Cafe Benedicte). Given that Cafe Benedicte claims to offer "reflections of Spain, Italy, South of France, Greece and North Africa," it's not totally unprecedented that a cosmopolitan spice such as saffron manages to make it onto the menu. But what is pleasantly surprising is that it appears in the form of a rich, almost sensual sauce. You may be tempted to forgo eating the plump scallops underneath in favor of wiping them clean with some bread to eek out every last bit of creamy saffron coating.
2. Saffron Ice Cream (Indika). Katharine Shilcutt named Indika's saffron ice cream one of the ten best in Houston and indeed, this sunny slab of frozen goodness, dusted with crunch pecans, is the perfect marriage of frigid Western sweet and Eastern salty. No word yet as to whether whether chef Anita Jaisinghani plans to sell this flavor by the pint. Anita, consider this article an open public plea.
1. Crab and Saffron Bisque (Nirvana Indian Restaurant). "I can't wait to eat some soup," is not usually an exclamation that precedes a visit to an Indian restaurant except, however, when you go to Nirvana, where traditional starters such as samosa and pakora play second fiddle to the sumptuous crab and saffron bisque. This is not to say that this decadent stew made from cream and lump crab meat should necessarily be relegated to the appetizer course, for if you order an extra large bowl and a side of rice it might easily outshine other entrees.