Saurabh (Mintu) Sareen spent 3-1/2 years developing plans for an Indian restaurant in Northwest Tucson.
His dreams came to fruition last June, when he opened Saffron in Oro Valley.
Saffron is a spacious 3,400 square feet with a full bar and seating for 140 people both inside and on its patio.
“I worked hard in doing research, looking at a number of spaces where we could locate, and checking on the Oro Valley demographics,” Sareen said. “Oro Valley and the Northwest have grown so big, and a majority of the people know about Indian food, that I thought it was time to have an authentic Indian restaurant in the area.”
Sareen characterizes Saffron’s food as “authentic Indian dishes, fused with modern and contemporary cooking techniques, yet keeping the dishes authentic for taste.”
One of the most popular dishes at Saffron is the chicken tikka masala, known in India as “butter chicken,” and which he calls the national dish of England.
“It’s slow simmered in our fresh tomato sauce, which takes us six hours to prepare, along with a hint of cream sauce and zesty Indian herbs and spices,” Sareen said. “The dish is also available made with lamb.”
Other customer favorites include those from the Treasures of the Tandoor part of the menu, Sareen noted. Foods are cooked in a charcoal-fired tandoor oven made of clay, which imparts an authentic Indian taste to the dishes.
Classic tandoori chicken (marinated chicken leg quarters infused with yogurt, ginger, garlic, anchiote and spices), ajwain fish (marinated in yogurt, saffron, garlic and fresh herbs), pearl prawns (infused with ginger, garlic, yogurt, red chili and north Indian spices), and murg malai kabab (cubes of chicken marinated in yogurt, cardamon, coriander and cream) are tandoor favorites, Sareen said.
Dishes are served with saffron rice, but a traditional Indian rice dish also is available — Biryani, a blend of basmati rice grown in the Himalayan foothills, slowly steamed with a selection of meats and vegetables, then accented with Indian spices and herbs.
Sareen also is proud of Saffron’s breads — baked in the tandoor ovens — such as naan, the classic soft-leavened white bread that he calls “great for dipping in curries or with butter;” tandoori roti, a traditional flat whole wheat bread; pudhina paratha, layered whole wheat bread with fresh mint; bullet naan, bread stuffed with spicy green chiles; aloo naan, stuffed with spiced potatoes; and paneer kulcha, stuffed with homemade cheese.
Sareen has been in Tucson eight years, and wanted to put his University of New Delhi bachelor’s degree and a diploma in hotel management to good use. He briefly considered returning to university life, but after investigating the restaurant scene in Tucson, realized there was no Indian food being served around the UA area.
That led to Sareen opening Kababeque Indian Grill on E. University Blvd., near the UA’s Main Gate. It’s been in operation for five years and Sareen calls it “the only Indian fast food joint in Arizona.”
But Saffron goes beyond the casual look and feel of Kababeque, Sareen maintained.
“We cater to a clientele who want good food, authentic Indian food, with a modern, contemporary ambiance,” he said. “That’s the concept we’ve achieved with Saffron.”