- 131 W. Market St., Louisville, KY, 40202
- (502) 584-7800
- Overall User Rating:
- (0 ratings)
- 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday; 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday.
- Official Web Site:
In the old days — before “going viral” became an online marketing strategy for disseminating rumors, gossip and bumper-sticker philosophy — we had this thing called “word-of-mouth.” People had experiences, and then shared those experiences with other people.
Small businesses, which often lacked the resources to spend dollars on advertising, were particularly attuned to the importance of “word-of-mouth,” as a way of generating new business. This was especially true in the restaurant business.
And in Louisville, the finest example of “word-of-mouth” marketing has to be the rack of lamb at Saffron’s Persian Restaurant. Saffron’s has been an important part of downtown Louisville’s restaurant scene for more than a decade now. And pretty early on, the rack of lamb developed a loyal cult following that continues to this day — despite the fact that it’s never actually been printed on the menu, and instead is always offered as a special (market price, recently around $32).
I don’t know whether that word-of-mouth campaign was a conscious strategy on the part of Saffron’s founder Majid Ghavami (who sold Saffron’s in 2010, and now owns Majid’s St. Matthews, 3911 Chenoweth Square). All I know for sure is that when Louisvillians talk food, uttering the word “lamb” nearly always elicits the name “Saffron’s.”
Reza Dabbagh bought Saffron’s in September 2010. Chef Hamid Alamdari — who had been running the kitchen for some years — stayed on. Dabbagh has made a few changes — brightening the place up, changing the floor plan to make room for new furnishings, hanging new art and the like — and added an interesting array of new dishes.
Service has become a tad more casual — though certainly no less friendly or expeditious. And though the downtown dining district (including the Main and Market Street corridors) has grown enormously over the last few years, Saffron’s still holds sway as one of the finest restaurants in the city.
Meals at Saffron’s always commence with a complimentary platter of sabzi, a green, glistening tangle of fresh tarragon, parsley, scallions and watercress, cubes of soft, fresh feta, crimson radishes and pieces of warm pita bread. It’s a light, provocative mix of flavors and textures that refreshes the palate and focuses your mind on the clarity, vigor and healthful qualities of Mediterranean cuisine.
Other appetizers are equally delightful. There are longtime Saffron’s favorites such as dips made from hummus or eggplant ($7); borani (an exquisite puree of sauteed spinach, onion and saffron-infused yogurt, $7); and beldercheen (delicate grilled quail flavored with saffron and lime, $9).
On a recent visit, we were won over by superb koofteh berengee ($7), a golden, tenderly crunchy globe made from rice and herbs, well served by a lovely tomato-tarragon sauce (it’s a dish that could certainly serve as the centerpiece of a fine vegetarian meal), and by grape leaves ($7) stuffed with a luscious blend of ground beef, rice, tarragon, split peas, onions and herbs.
Chef Alamdari and crew are masters of the grill and skewer, offering up a nice list of grilled beef, lamb, chicken and vegetable offerings. But the best of the lot, as far as I’m concerned, is arguably the most humble: vaziri ($18), a combination of tender chicken and ground beef deftly infused with the tantalizing flavors of Persian spices (served with impeccably prepared basmati rice, the portion here, and most other entrees, is large enough that many diners will be smart to pay the $3.50 split plate charge, and share an entree).
Seafood — both grilled (salmon barberry, $19) and stewed in a glorious tomato-saffron sauce (mahi mahi, salmon, shrimp, scallops, $19) — is well represented on the menu.
And speaking of stews, Alamdari’s offerings in that category are delightful — as accessible as they are exotic. Fessenjoon, an outstanding vegetarian stew, gets heft and texture from crushed walnuts and fresh vegetables and deep flavor from caramelized onions ($17).
But diners craving a true taste of Persia might be tempted to order ghormeh sabzi ($17), an iconic Persian stew. Alamdari mixes chopped green vegetables and herbs with red kidney beans and chunks of beef, adds some dried lime, then slow-cooks the combination until the meat has the texture of a great American pot roast, and the entire dish comes together as a multi-layered fusion of bitter and earthy flavors.
It’s a bold, rich dish. In fact, it’s so bold and rich that during the summer months, many diners will prefer sharing the substantial portion (and perhaps complementing it with sublimely light side dishes, like mast-o-musir, a creamy bowl of shallot-infused house-made yogurt ($2) or mast-o-khiar, yogurt with cucumbers and herbs.
But come wintertime, a full portion of ghormeh sabzi will be a comfort on cold nights.
Meanwhile, in the realm of reliable summer comforts, there are few better than Saffron’s house-made ice cream, flavored with saffron and rosewater, decorated with a fresh berry and a plank of cinnamon.
You can email freelance restaurant critic Marty Rosen at email@example.com.