PICTURED: Tandoori shrimp Photo by Dean Johnson

Saffron Indian Cuisine and Bar
579 N. Ventu Park Road, #A, Newbury Park
805-499-7115 or www.saffronnewburyparkca.com
$3-20

On a recent Saturday, the family and I headed into Thousand Oaks to run errands and, hopefully, meet up with our Newbury Park friends for lunch. Those plans fell through, however, leaving us hungry and on our own to find sustenance. My lassi-loving preteen begged for Indian food, which is how we found ourselves at the closest establishment: Saffron Indian Cuisine. Other than an address and some promising Yelp reviews, we knew nothing — and found ourselves pleasantly surprised, in more ways than one.

I noticed two things right off the bat: The beautiful decor, with hand-painted murals on

Saffron’s colorful dining room. Photo by Dean Johnson

the walls, colorful tablecloths, shimmering curtains and dozens of elaborate lanterns scattered about; and a full bar. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to enjoy a cocktail with my curry, and this was a welcome surprise indeed. 

Our courteous server tucked us into a roomy booth near the window with menus and quickly took our drink orders. Mango lassis are the standards for our kids; I ordered the spicy chili-tini off the drink specials menu. With a mix of chile-infused vodka, pineapple juice, lime and agave, it had the perfect blend of sweet and spicy elements to stand up to the assertive flavors of a traditional Indian menu.

A generous buffet (just $10.95 for all you can eat) is set up for lunch, and it gave my husband and me a chance to try some different items. Yes, the tandoori chicken and chicken tikka masala are good; quite good, even. But I was probably more impressed by the malai kofta, fresh vegetables pressed into a ball and cooked in a savory stew of

Malai kofta over rice with pakoras and salad. Photo by Dean Johnson

tomatoes, saffron and spices. These were so tender and delicious, and I loved the tangy sauce, which was lighter than typical cream-based curries. The buffet also included a curried potato stir-fry with green beans and onions — drier and more earthy than rich, and quite tasty. I never found room for the dal tadka (lentils cooked with spices and tomato), but the traditional salad bar made for a welcome touch of freshness.

Buffet orders came with naan; both the unseasoned and garlic options were pillowy soft and served fresh from the grill, with just a touch of crispiness. We eagerly sopped up those savory sauces and delectable chutneys (spicy cilantro and mint, sweet tamarind and creamy raita) — although my one minor complaint might be that the garlic naan could have used more garlic. 

We also ordered the aloo paratha, or naan stuffed with mashed potatoes and spices, and tandoori shrimp. These were all up to the same high standard set by the other items. The stuffed naan had a great blend of spices and a touch of oil on the bread to moisten the dish. The shrimp were large and plump, pale gold from delicate spices and cooked until just done. 

I love Indian food and have a tendency to gorge, leaving no room for dessert. I paced myself this time around and thus was able to fully enjoy a dish of kheer, or rice pudding. Smart plan: This was a particularly good example. Super creamy with hints of spice and coconut, and beautifully textured from the just-cooked rice kernels. Less extraordinary, but still quite good, was the gulab jamun. These small balls of fried dough (similar to doughnuts) came piping hot from the fryer, drenched with a sweet

Gulab jamun, balls of fried dough (similar to doughnuts) with a sweet syrup and coconut. Photo by Dean Johnson

syrup and dusted with coconut. Almost too sweet, but lovely all the same — these would have been a standout if that rice pudding hadn’t been so darn good. 

Chance brought us to Saffron, but I would gladly return to sample the wonderfully prepared entrees and desserts and sip a drink or two. Who knows what other surprises await?