Indian Cuisine for The Enthusiast And Neophyte
ZafrÃ¡n restaurant, situated in a cluster of nondescript stores on the northbound side of Central Avenue in Yonkers, is an ideal spot for Indian cuisine enthusiasts to bring their food xenophobic friends (and there are many of you, I know). Thanks to owner and chef Akhtar Mir, a global gastronome who has lived (and cooked) in many countries including Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina, Turkey and Italy, attention-grabbing fusion items (mostly Italian-Indian) are listed on the menu alongside traditional Indian fare. The results are dishes that combine the comfort of the familiar with an enlivening touch of an Indian technique or spice.
A couple of pre-appetizer nibbles showcased ZafrÃ¡n’s fusion concept well. Thin, fried strips of samosa pastry provided the perfect crunch for a plunge into salsa-like tomato chutney. Even better were the small rectangles of the almost focaccia-like roghni naan topped with Brie and house-made apple, mango and papaya chutneys; I battled with one dining companion, Jeff the Chef, over the last delectable bite.
Another skirmish took place over the appetizer of sautÃ©ed jumbo shrimp with mushrooms in a spicy cream garlic sauce. The shrimp were juicy and gobbled up in a hurry, but the best was yet to come: dabbling bits of roghni naan until every last drop of garlic sauce was sopped up. Crispy, pastry-wrapped tandoori shrimp with papaya and tamarind chutneys and Tuscan tandoori salmon accompanied by a tartar sauce were other solid starters, but the silky texture of traditional risotto was missing in the middling basmati rice-based risotto Zaferano. A pile of tiny triangular lump crabmeat samosas was reminiscent of typical wedding hors d’oeuvres and immediately forgettable.
A selection of soups (most of them American flavored with the spices of India) is offered, and the two we tried were both excellent. The veal-infused vegetable broth happily brought together savory, salty and a hint of cream, while a cream of broccoli soup was a soothing green colored pool of steamy bliss.
An excellent fusion entrÃ©e for the Indian-cuisine uninitiated is the blissfully simple tandoori chicken pasta—al dente penne and red-hued tandoori chicken lightly dressed in pepperoncini oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Others in this mix-and-match cuisine category are the steak au poivre, cooked atop a blistering 1,200˚ F rounded top tandoor oven, and a whole fish for two—sea bass, branzini or red snapper—again done tandoor oven-style. We tried the red snapper, which was decent, but the real joy of the dish was the accompanying onion and tomato gravy that partnered flawlessly with an order of paratha lachedar, a flaky, whole wheat thin-as-brick-oven pizza bread. Nirvana-esque!
Traditionalists shouldn’t fret; Indian standards are here, and most dishes we tried were on par with other top local Indian establishments. One standout was the chicken tikka masala. Mixed with accompanying pulao rice, the aromatic stew-like dish is classic Indian at its best—savory and spicy and the perfect landing for a dive-bombing piece of crispy paratha. The aloo gobi zeera, a vegetarian alternative with cauliflower, potatoes and cumin in a tomato gravy, was respectable.
Desserts are not a significant part of most Asian cuisines, and Indian is no exception. The kulfi, a small ice cream log sliced into thin wedges with pistachios, almonds, saffron and cardamom, is a lighter cousin to the American version, though no less delicious. More indulgent diners can order the kulfi ZafrÃ¡n surrounded by a thick-shelled chocolate orb. Jeff the Chef preferred his gulab jamun, lightly fried spongy rounds of ricotta cheese doused in honey syrup and sprinkled with pistachios. A fusion dessert, pistachio tiramisu, is quite good, though don’t plan on sharing—the portion is tiny.
Often, fusion restaurants get caught up in melding the cuisine of two or more cultures and forget the basic integrity of the original cuisines. Most likely due to Mir’s vast experience and familiarity with world cuisines, ZafrÃ¡n has avoided this con“fusion” with fusion. If you don’t mind the occasional honk from Central Avenue or a jarring refrigerator case just inside the entrance, grab the hand of a food xenophobe and go to ZafrÃ¡n.
1550 Central Park Ave., Yonkers
Lunch, Tue. to Sun. 12-2:30 pm
Afternoon tea, Tue. to Sun. 3-5:30 pm
Dinner, Tue. to Sun. 6-9 pm