Erin Petersen

Downtown welcomes Zaafaran, an experiment in culinary fusion

By - May 25th, 2011 04:00 am
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Just in time for Downtown Dining Week (June 2-9), Cathedral Square welcomes Zaafaran, a new restaurant offering a sensual journey of Thai and Indian cuisine in a thoroughly modern atmosphere.

Zaafaran’s Tandoori Chicken

Located in the heart of Downtown, Zaafaran’s blend of Southeast Asian flavors lends itself to a unique and satisfying dining experience. Head chef Ian McGee focuses on the herbs and spices native to Indian and Thai cuisine as the foundation of his dishes, carefully selecting ingredients that will compliment rich, intense flavors like saffron, fenugreek and chili. McGee is careful in his usage of such pungent spices, though. Instead of overpowering the palate, dishes like Tandoori Chicken or Dal Makhini are fragrant and savory, each ingredient perfectly complimenting the next.

Zaafaran is owned by Royal Orchid, which operates high-end boutique hotels and resorts in in Southeast Asia, known for their contemporary design and modern facilities. Owner Manoj Tiwari had visited Milwaukee several times in the past, and says he recognized a market for the unique style and flavor of Zaafaran, adding that Milwaukee’s unique culture made it a perfect launching point for the brand in the U.S.

Milwaukee is home to a variety of restaurants with a flair for international fare, and Zaafaran is a welcome addition. The large open concept dining room and floor-to-ceiling windows give the space a crisp, yet cosy atmosphere. A full service bar offers cocktails, a selection Thai beers and signature cocktails like a fresh, fruity twist on the classic mojito — perfect for the hot summer days ahead.

Scallop Kaprow with ginger, garlic and basil.

At a preview Monday night, a handful of local media got to sample items from the diverse menu, each course a pleasant, sensory experience. From a light, citrusy Tom Yum to rich, smoky dal accented with a small dollop of creme freche and diced chives, to a perfectly cooked, lightly seasoned Pad Thai, Zaafaran’s menu is all about balancing intense, traditional flavors with fresh, satisfying textures.

Zaafaran will offer full service sit-down lunch and dinner menus, take out and Indian lunch buffet featuring an array of salads, dals, and signature dishes to suit any appetite. It’s easy to imagine popping in here for a cocktail (and maybe a side of Thai spring rolls) on a bustling Friday night, lounge at the bar for after-work drinks, or to spice up date night. With appetizers ranging in price from $6-9, and entrees from $10-25, this culinary journey through southeast Asia won’t run you the price of a roundtrip ticket.

See for yourself at Zaafaran’s grand opening event tonight at 7 p.m . Listen to sweet jams, mixed by Milwaukee’s own DJ Kid Cut Up, bedeck your arms (or hands, or feet) with temporary henna tattoos and sample hand-passed canapes and drink samples. The grand opening is free and open to the public. Zaafaran is located at 780 E. Jefferson St. For more information, click here.

Categories: Dining

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