"I decided to open in downtown Raleigh because there are no Indian restaurants and people love Indian food," Rawat said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.
Rawat says he will offer fine-dining Indian fare and pointed out that they will be offering a wide selection of seafood dishes from sea bass to lobster. He said they would be open for both lunch from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and for dinner from 5-10 p.m.
Go to Mantra's website to see the menu.
Rawat hopes to open the second week in August. The restaurant's exact location is 116 N. West St. Suite 100.
Rawat has an impressive culinary pedigree. He trained in New Delhi at what was then the top Indian restaurant in the world, Bukhara. Before he came to the Triangle, he worked as a chef at Tamarind in New York City.
N&O restaurant critic Greg Cox gave Saffron, three out of four stars when he reviewed it in 2006. At that time, the restaurant was in Morrisville.
Here is a copy of Greg's review:
CHEF IS SAFFRON'S STANDOUT
Publication: THE NEWS & OBSERVER
Reporter: Greg Cox; Correspondent
Text: The Triangle is extraordinarily blessed with Indian restaurants, not only in terms of sheer numbers -- more than two dozen at last count -- but also in terms of variety. Northern curry, Southern dosa, Indo-Chinese, Goan, Hyderabadi, strictly vegetarian buffet in a modest eatery, tandoori beef tenderloin in a chic contemporary setting -- we've got it all. Any new restaurant hoping to stand out in that crowd had better offer something special indeed.
At Saffron, which opened in Morrisville in May, that "something special" is executive chef Gamer Rawat. Owner Vijay Dhuler will proudly tell you that Rawat trained in New Delhi at Bukhara, which has been rated the top Indian restaurant in the world, and that the chef worked most recently at the highly acclaimed Tamarind in New York.
I've never had the opportunity to dine in either of those restaurants, but I can confirm that Rawat can flat-out cook.
That much was obvious the first time I dined at Saffron and sampled kararee bhindi, which Dhuler had told me was the chef's signature dish. Admittedly, I wondered at first how such a humble presentation, consisting of little more than okra and onions, could be the signature dish of a chef with such an exalted culinary pedigree. Then I tasted it - impossibly thin lengthwise slices of okra, lightly breaded and fried into lacy ribbons, gently seasoned with Indian spices and tossed with equally delicate threads of fried red onion - and understood. Any chef who could do so much with so little is indeed a rare talent.
Time and again, chef Rawat demonstrates that talent. Sometimes the demonstration takes the form of a dish you've never had -- corn and mushroom shammi, for instance, in which the star ingredients are minced and formed into chile- and ginger-spiked patties, then gently pan-fried into cakes exotically reminiscent of polenta. At other times, it takes the form of a revelatory new twist on a dish you thought you knew well, such as the haunting musky note in a mulligatawny soup. Still other times, it takes the form of such comfortably familiar flavors that you could almost imagine it on a Thanksgiving table -- Bombay chaat salad, for one, a subtly seasoned melange of roasted potatoes and tomatoes.
Another telling indication of Rawat's skill is the fact that he doesn't limit himself to the standard three or four curry variations to sauce every dish on the menu. Instead, he tailors each sauce to complement the central ingredients of that dish. In an appetizer offering of Rajasthani solay, for instance, he pairs skewered ribbons of lean, tender grilled lamb with a sauce of roasted red bell pepper, lemon and garlic.
A more substantial dish calls for a more assertive sauce, and a lamb shank entree gets just that: an intensely fragrant brew studded with whole green and black cardamom pods. Smoked lobster tail, on the other hand, gets a creamy, gently perfumed tomato sauce - somewhat reminiscent of that in a chicken tikka, but sweeter - which accents the flavor of the shellfish without upstaging it. And chicken Chettinad envelopes succulent breast meat in a brassy, Southern Indian-inflected sauce spiked with curry leaves.
As you might expect, kitchen miscues are few and minor. A handful of dishes, including an otherwise flawless entree special featuring Indian-spiced sea bass, are marred by an accompanying medley of frozen vegetables -- a culinary shortcut common in middling Indian restaurants but inexcusable here. (Dhuler agreed when I pointed this out and says he'll look into using fresh vegetables.) Breads can be hit or miss, from sometimes-crisp, sometimes-flaccid pappadam to poori that are deflated by the time they reach the table. Rasmalai and gulab jamun are both competently rendered, but neither dessert rises to the level of expectation set by the rest of the meal.
Saffron's wine list makes the grade, however, with a broad selection thoughtfully matched to the menu's offering. Service is more polished than most, and the contemporary decor -- from the zebrawood veneer chandelier over the onyx bar to the leather-upholstered chairs at linen-draped tables -- is elegant but comfortable.
But make no mistake. It's the chef who makes Saffron truly special.
4121 Davis Drive, in McCrimmon Corners shopping center, Morrisville, www.saffronnc.com, 469-5774.
Rating: 3 stars
Atmosphere: comfortably elegant
Service: generally smooth
Recommended: kararee bhindi, corn mushroom shammi, chicken Chettinad, lamb shank Avadh
Open: Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.
Other: Visa, MasterCard, American Express; full bar; smoke-free; vegetarian-friendly; accommodates children.
The N&O's critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories:
Zero stars: Poor