“I’m just mad about Saffron, Saffron’s mad about me,” crooned Irish rocker Donovan in his signature 1966 hit, Mellow Yellow. Though bananas, electrical or otherwise, are not represented on his menu, chef and restaurateur Christopher Dever elected to make the fragrant spice the namesake of his intimate Glen Ellen bistro. The restaurant opened its doors on Arnold Drive nearly six years ago and remains a darling of both locals and visitors alike.
Saffron, a corm-producing plant of the crocus sativus variety, produces small flowers atop yellow-orange stigmas. It is these stigmas, when dried, that are used to create the aromatic spice – a seasoning in much evidence at the warm, snug eatery.
An eclectic mix of influences, Saffron’s menu is a survey of Old and New World haute cuisines infused with a well-hewn California gastronomical sensibility, which is to say it’s got something for everyone except those on a hunger strike.
Ostensibly a tapas joint, Dever’s philosophy when creating Saffron was to marry locally produced ingredients to multi-cultural influences culled from the world over. Moreover, Dever maintains a region-meets-season protocol that has the menu changing on a near daily basis, though traditional Spanish dishes (among them, of course, the ubiquitous paella) figure prominently. The result is a winning combination of savory surprises that suggest the aphorism “Think globally, eat locally.”
On our visit, we began with a fresh heirloom tomato salad bedecked with briney capers and sweet onions, a simple dish but fresh and excellently deployed ($7). Saffron seems to put a premium on presentation and you may find yourself apprehensive about mussing the contents of an attractively arranged plate (you wouldn’t stick your fork into a Picasso would you?). Mussels are also featured on the appetizer menu and come steamed, boasting saffron, shallots, garlic and “laced with sherry” ($12). Both starters are wonderfully delicate curtain openers to Saffron’s entrees, which dazzle with folksy simplicity.
Helming the red meat department is a superb fillet of Montana Ranch beef served over fried green tomatoes and drizzled with a sumptuous zinfandel reduction sauce ($27). Likewise, the pork tender loin served in an au jus and accompanied by seasonal greens ($19) commanded approbations from my companion who, between succulent bites, managed to report “It’s really tender, prepared perfectly. It’s an ideal Fall meal – hearty but not overwhelming. The simplicity really brings out all of the flavors.” I managed to negotiate a trade – a bite of my fillet for a bite of her tenderloin, to which she reluctantly agreed, passing the sample over as it were the last bit of pork on earth, if not her plate.
The affable, young staff is surprisingly knowledgeable given their tender years and aptly suggested Murphy-Goode’s “Liar’s Dice” zinfandel, which paired well with our meals, especially since it echoed the reduction sauce on the fillet. It should be noted, that the wine list at Saffron is rather impressive and, of course, boasts a surfeit of Spanish wines. Finishing with the Valhrona chocolate bread pudding provided the perfect endnote and is highly recommended ($7).
Saffron makes wonderful use of its intimate ambience (large burgundy curtains, fragrant flower displays), and suggests itself as a spot worthy of rekindling a romance. Upon our visit, the cozy dining area was populated entirely by couples, representing every shade of romantic development, from first love to last chance – though it seemed everyone left happily. As Donovan would say “Quite rightly.”
13648 Arnold Drive
Glen Ellen, CA 95422