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Mar 8, 2010 05:34 AM

Saffron - Chapel Hill - Coming Soon!

We just saw the sign in East 54 over the weekend. Checking their website, it says 'Opening Soon in East 54'. Hooray! A truly excellent Indian lunch buffet in Chapel Hill.

Mint is fine, but not overwhelming. I recently re-tried Tandoor's buffet after reading about a refresh/remodel, but it was awful. No more driving to Cary for yummy Indian (hopefully).

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  1. I think Mint is great and has a good variety on their buffet for such a tiny space. What was your take on Mint as far as what you didn't like? I feel it's definitely better than average and certainly better than Tandoor. I'd put it on par with Saffron for my tastes. I can't speak about a la carte and I've not been to the Indian place next door either.

    17 Replies
    1. re: burgeoningfoodie

      Mint in unobjectionable (damning with faint praise), in the same way that Thai Palace is unobjectionable. I put Mint way below Saffron, Spice & Curry, etc.

      Sawasdee in Raleigh (spicy!) is the best Thai in the Triangle.

      1. re: sabarrett

        Haven't been to Sawasdee but know the name. The best Thai I've had recently is Yum Yum over in Cary.

        Haven't been to Spice and Curry either, but I'm not too often at that intersection. I guess what I was meaning to ask in your comparison of Mint vs. Saffron is what you like about one that you dislike about the other. Price aside.

        I am curious what that space in East 54 will be set like.

        1. re: burgeoningfoodie

          First off, I only order off the menu and wouldn't eat off a buffet, Indian or otherwise, for the most part. Saffron is the best Indian I've had in the Triangle, perhaps the best Indian I've ever had, though I'm not an expert on the cuisine. If they replicate the Morrisville location in Chapel Hill, I'd be very happy. My favorite thing on their menu is bindi, which is a crispy okra preparation that is mouth wateringly good.

          We usually eat Indian food with my in-laws who have more experience in this cuisine and they prefer Saffron over Mint despite their drive from CH to Morrisville.

          1. re: Tom from Raleigh

            Don't get me wrong I'm very excited about Saffron opening up nearer than Morrisville/Cary. However I also really like Mint. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I know really good Indian food from just good Indian food. I mean Sitar was good to me the one time I went and Tandoor I could definitely tell a difference. I mean the food tasted good but as far as Tandoor went.. they just don't restock their food and it gets dry. I don't care about whether it should be spicer or not but more along taste. Though to me a lot of it seems to taste the same (but also I don't usually get to eat it but once a month and so comparing is a bit hard).

            1. re: burgeoningfoodie

              I love Southern Indian food & grind my own masalas, so I can tell you Mint is not good Northern Indian food. I went there for dinner with a friend who raved. The menus was faux Indian [ugh Tikka Masala] and the veg offereings unispired.
              It was just creamy food, yogurt and cream in abundance. Now Northern Moghul cuisine is rich, and to be fair the tandoor chicken was moist. But this is tourist Indian food. And the place was filled -with euro-americans, no people of Indian descent. That tells the tale.

              I'm thrilled that Saffron is coming, when?

              1. re: Rory

                I've been to Mint twice and both times for lunch. Both times it was filled with people from India and I'm not talking about the staff. I'm a bit confused by your statement about loving Southern Indian food and then stating that Mint is not good Northern Indian food...

                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                  While Rory can certainly defend his/her own post, I read the first sentence as establishing credibility and expertise. Southern Indian cuisine is a rare find in the US. Much of what we are served as Indian food is no more authentic of Indian cuisine than neon orange sweet and sour pork is exemplary of food from China. Much of the above paragraph comes from the excellent book, "Asian Dining Rules" by Steven A. Shaw.

                  Just to return to the Triangle food scene, while chicken tikka masala was invented in the Indian neighborhood of Brick Lane in London, not in India itself, I find the Saffron's version of this dish superior to any other I've tried in the Triangle.

                  1. re: Tom from Raleigh

                    I think I was thrown by saying that she loved Southern food and made her own Masala and so that was why she could say that a Northern place was not good.. Aren't the Northern and Southern cuisines a bit different?

                    The only place I can think of that resembled what I have heard about Southern Indian fare would be Tower in Morrisville. I had only been once and that was awhile back, but lots of veggies and the food on the buffet was spicier than most other buffet offerings. I could be wrong about it being Southern Indian.

                    1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                      Thanks Tom for helping, I do appreciate it, I guess it was a bit obscure. I do know Northern cuisine, I've got my giant volume of Lord Krishna's Cuisine;-).
                      It's even hard to say Northern as there are regions: Gujarat, Punjab, Kashmir then Parsi dishes, Jain ones, and of course Moghul. it's so fascinating and complex....but basically at Mint it's just touristy creamy. It is fresh & more power to them for filing the place up. But it's not a place I'd visit again.
                      Yes, the Tower is Southern, but the food from Tamil Nadu isn't spicy at all, Hyderabad has the hottest food, and famous dishes like biryani, Kerala is my fave & then Goan as it is true fusion. That's what makes me sad, like Tom said. Indian cuisine is so rich and complex, and we get touristy faux dishes. I'll try Saffron and hope.

                      1. re: Rory

                        I knew that there were regions, but I'm glad you gave a little lesson and touched on what makes each region slightly different (as oppose to major differences between North and South). I don't know if certain foods come from certain regions. I just thought Biryani was a staple of the general North or South. Unfortunately the only Kerala I know is the product by the lady who lives in the area.. I really like her tomato chutney.

                        I think Saffron has enough thumbs up that you'll be pleasantly surprised.. unless this branch of the restaurant really fails. I don't know if ordering off menu at Mint is different than the buffet.

                        1. re: Rory

                          Actually, Saffron does the cream thing in a lot of their dishes as well-- what can I say, the Chinese Americanize their dishes by adding sugar to everything and Indians Americanize their dishes by adding cream to everything. That said, if judicious selection is made from the Saffron menu one can have a very good Indian experience. As Tom mentioned, the bhindi dish is excellent (easy to make: thin slice okra and flash fry, then toss with diced tomatoes, thinly sliced purple onions, chopped clinatro, lemon juice, chaat masala powder, chili powder and salt to taste) and they do go out of their way to offer a few dishes that is out of the norm.

                          This is why I lamented the loss of Green Leaf so much. They tried hard to represent dishes from different regions of India and there wasn't an over-reliance on cream based dished. Actually, a couple places that is good about this as well is Sitar in Durham and Royal India in N. Raleigh.

                        2. re: burgeoningfoodie

                          Tower is a vegetarian restaurant.

                          While Tamil food isn't as spicy as some other Indian cuisines, Tower is a little closer to Indian than some of the places here, so it may be spicier than some of the places people have been.

                          Sitar is owned by a Catholic family from Kerala. Religion specified only because it can affect which dishes they serve.

                          In the past, the buffet has been fairly generic Indian but they do have some Southern Indian dishes on the menu.

                          The Indian grocery store in the little strip mall next to Spartacus sometimes has biryani for sale on Thursdays and Fridays.

                          If you're a meat eater and looking for authentic Northern food, Biryani house in Chatham square is pretty authentic and spicy. I think it's run by Punjabs.

              2. re: burgeoningfoodie

                Yum Yum is/was owned by the people that run Thai Villa.

                Yum Yum was a bit dumbed down the few times I was in there, but it's a much prettier space than Thai Villa which is old and badly needs renovated.

                Thai Villa is across the parking lot from Grand Asia.

                Sawasdee opened another restaurant on 70 which is much closer than the other Raleigh location.

                Ordering off the menu at Saffron is very different from having the buffet.

                The Saffron chef is New York and India trained and many of the dishes are more upscale and fusion-like than a normal Northern Indian menu.

                1. re: castaway

                  Yeah the chef at Saffron came from a place called Tamarind in NY.

                  1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                    Tamarind, while good when they first opened on the Upper West Side, fell off really fast. Its barely 20 feet wide and does a bang-up delivery business. I hope that was when this chef moved down here. In other words, I wouldn't use this as a complement for Saffron too quickly.
                    I just moved here from there so Im trawling to get kernels of wisdom.
                    All that said, Im going to try Saffron.

                    1. re: mattbrown23

                      Itis not entirely clear if the original Saffron in Morrisville and the new Saffron in Chapel Hill are under the same ownership. Someone will need to verify but it could be that there were two partners at the original Saffron and one of them left to start a separate Saffron. I've eaten at the Morrisville Saffron a few times and the Chapel Hill's menu looks somwhat different. As an Indian who has tried most of the Indian restaurants in the Triangle area I like the Morrisville Saffron the best. I hope the one in Chapel Hill is just as good.

                      1. re: bbqme

                        A friend of mine in Morrisville mentioned that the people who owned the one in Cary left some time ago and started the one in Chapel Hill. I don't know for sure.

          2. Can't wait! Apparently two other restaurants are coming to East 54 (on NC 54 just east of Glen Lennox) -- a pizzeria (chain restaurant based in Italy), and a Thai/sushi hybrid. There's a little more information at

            Saffron Indian Cuisine Coming March 2010

            Piola Coming April 2010

            Thai Oishi Coming July 2010

            4 Replies
            1. re: durhamcookie

              thanks Castaway, I checked the menu, it is fusion which is fine, but I've got to ask; why does every place have to make Sag Paneer? That's just so tiresome, I don't even make it at home anymore I'm so sick of it.
              okay rant finished;-)

              1. re: durhamcookie

                Yeah I forgot that Piola was coming eventhough I posted about it on here probably before the holidays. It will be interesting to see how it competes with all the other pizza places around the area. The one thing it does have going for it is that it is located in an area that doesn't have a pizza place right nearby and it's in the condo/apartment complex.. Though in Chapel HIll it is not much of a stretch to get from one place to another.. unless there is a home basketball game.

                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                  Piola will have to compete with the nearby Brixx's in Meadowmont, which is pretty good pizza. Not to mention their draft specials on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

                  1. re: ToothTooth

                    Forgot about Brixx. I wasn't impressed with my personal pizza but that was almost 2 years ago. Time will tell if another pizza place can make it. Having a place where people live right there will help.

              2. everybody needs to try InChin off 54 in Morrisville. It is a combination of Indian and chinese cuisine.. It is truly delicious. 100 years ago chinese people emigrated to Kolkata , India and a truly delicious fusion of these two cuisines occured.There are two more restaurants in NC featuring this cuisine. Pao Lim in Durham and sechuan Palace in winston -salem. These two restaurants are owned by the same Man. I have Eaten chilli Chicken at Sechuan Palace and it is fantastic!. My husband is from Kolkata and says this is the closest you can get to Tangra(The name of the China town in Kolkata)style chilli chicken.If you go to InChin, you have to try the Hakka noodles, Chilli chicken and the chilli cauliflower. Fabulous!

                6 Replies
                1. re: Bengaliwife

                  Is Inchin the place where Salsa Fresh and Andy's is? I've been there once and wasn't determined to go back. I don't believe that Pao Lim still exists. I know it changed names but not sure about food style or if it is even still open. I don't think it has been good for some time, but again I've not been there in more than a year.

                  I AM looking forward to Vimala (of Curry Blossom fame) opening her new place.. I believe in the Courtyard in Chapel Hill.

                  1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                    Pao Lim is still there. For a while, they tried to switch over to Japanese and called themselves Kimono (IIRC), but now they're Kimono (big letters on the sign)/ Pao Lim (smaller letters). I went in there not too long after the switch to Kimono and was very disappointed. I haven't been back since.

                    1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                      Some of the Indian people I eat lunch with really like Inchin and tell me it is fairly authentic.

                      I like Indian food. I like Chinese food.

                      I didn't care for Inchin. The sauces were extremely thick and gloppy. The food was relatively bland.

                      The portions were relatively small given the prices.

                      When they opened, they were extremely slow and service was hit or miss but more recently they seem to have solved those problems.

                      It would probably be my third or fourth choice of places to eat in that particular strip mall.

                    2. re: Bengaliwife

                      Fellow Bengali here, born in Kolkata. The full name is Inchin's Bamboo Garden:


                      The fellow who owns Pao Lim is a Chinese guy who was born in Kolkata and lived there until age 28, then started a restaurant in New Delhi, and then moved to the US. So he is the real deal in Indo-Chine cuisine. Since their menu is kind of all over th eplace now anybody wanting to try this unique cuisine should as for recommendations from the menu.

                      1. re: bbqme

                        I was just about to ask what would be some good examples to try this type of food from Pao Lim.

                        1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                          While Pao Lim is/was owned by the guy who has/had the Indo-chinese place in Winston-Salem, I didn't see anything on the menu at Pao Lim that struck me as Indo-chinese.

                          I don't think it's claiming to be an Indo-Chinese restaurant, so you may have to ask for specific dishes if that's what you want.

                          Pao Lim was offering a wide variety of Asian cuisines at prices higher than I'd expect at an Asian restaurant and quality and taste worse than I'd expect at an Asian restaurant.

                          Pao Lim was wildly popular at one point with some people in Durham but I could never figure out why.

                          I don't know if they serve them, but some popular Indo-Chinese dishes are "chili " and "65" and "manchurian" plus noodles such as hakka noodles.

                    3. I went to Saffron in CH last week for a takeaway order and was pretty disappointed, especially for the price. I ordered at 7pm by phone, they said 15 minutes, I arrived at 7:20, and had to wait at the bar until 7:50. A table of 4 was seated, ordered, and served their appetizers all while I waited. When my bags finally came, there was no tamarind or mint sauce (standard with the things I ordered) and no basmati rice. When I asked for the rice to accompany the chicken dish I was given a look of surprise. The rice that they finally packed for me was totally plain basmati, not the perfumed rice and without *Saffron* flecks. Given the name of the place, kind of a surprising missing ingredient.
                      I have lived in NYC and LDN for a number of yrs and dined at what many, including myself, consider the best Indian restaurants. This service experience was not up to par. Surprising since the owners are well practiced at the original location. Maybe it was just an off night. Too bad because I live so close....oh and the person who took my phone order did not have full command of the menu and not the most friendly phone manner. Not rude, but also not friendly.

                      As for the food, veg samosa was very good. Paratha, a little dry. Basmati, already covered that...Everything else decent.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: aenverga

                        Ridiculous amount of time to wait, but I thought in most Indian restaurants you had to order the rice as a side dish (that or naan).

                        1. re: LulusMom

                          rice comes with the meat based entrees (chx tika masala in this case). i ordered paratha separately,

                        2. re: aenverga

                          So I went back this weekend for another try and a dine-in meal, as opposed to my last take out experience. This time I went early evening with friends and we had 3 young children with us. We were seated towards the back just inside the patio, which was great because the kids could be entertained near the window.

                          Service - very good. Attentive and timely. Food arrived nicely spaced betw apps and entrees.

                          polti samosa. quite large and filling. 2 in an order and suggest splitting between 3 or 4 people to avoid filling up. Homeade and on the spicy side.

                          kesari malai tikka. tender, about 4 to 5 pieces of marinated chicken. not spicy. it went over very well with the two 3yr olds (they wanted more) and the adults.

                          Entrees: all ordered 'mild' though the first 2 below still came spicy enough to create a nice heat sensation

                          daal mahkni: large portion, great texture. very tasty over basmati
                          began pasanda: beautiful presentation. whole slices atop the pureed eggplant/garlic/tomato. paired well with the rosemary naan
                          tandoor basi sea bass: cooked beautifully. tender and moist. very smooth and mild tomato/bell pepper cream sauce. came with a rice that was cooked in a brown, flavorable, sauce. we all used the sauce with this dish to cool off the heat from the other 2 entrees.

                          rosemary naan: awesome. hot. fresh. moist.
                          basmati: still the same plain basmati is what came with the entrees. i saw that a perfumed version could be ordered for an additional cost from the menu.

                          With the exception of the rice, everything was quite good. each dish had distict flavors. Definitely on the spicier side, and I think my paletter is fairly tolerant. Our dishes were ordered mild, I can only imagine what the standard versions are like.

                          Although the food was all very good, I found the prices a touch high. I guess I am paying a bit if a premium for the ambience and high rent location. Probably a better bang for buck at lunch.