by Nancy Silver
Being in the mood for something exotic, my friends and I decided to try a Mediterranean style restaurant. We headed to Devine Street where I had previously passed an exotic looking restaurant named Al-Amir.
Unfortunately, we found Al-Amir to be closed, despite the address still being listed on the restaurants website. In its place however, we found an equally interesting and brand new restaurant called Saffron, this one stemming from Moroccan-inspired cuisine.
We entered the airy lounge adorned with a wall water fountain as the host greeted us. The option was a 20-25 minute wait for an inside table or immediate seating outside. Since I wanted to gain the full atmospheric experience we chose to wait. In actuality, a 25 minute wait was nothing to us compared to most places we usually dine, but the hostess seemed concerned. As we lounged on the cushioned seats that wrapped around the inside of the windows, we were able to see an open area where pita bread was being freshly made.
When our table was called we were seated by the bar area, at an incredibly cozy and romantic area. I sat on a cushioned seat that extended from the wall and was adorned with pillows in rich red and gold tones. Most are regular wood tables, or bar stool styled tables but no booths except for the few cushioned seats like what we were offered. The atmosphere is very romantic and exotic, however, with the dark chocolate mahogany finishes and of course, a candle at each table.
I decided to start with an appetizer that I had been eyeing since I had glanced at a menu in the waiting area. It was a hummus dish that had been described as being seasoned with garlic, lemon, tahita sauce, olives and mushrooms. The mushrooms were very different then I had anticipated, not the usual. They were left whole and had a nice dark color and a enticing sweetness about them. The pita bread was delicious with a sprinkling of sesame seeds that I have never seen on a pita. This was consumed by all and we quickly ran out of pita bread.
The menu consisted of hummus, falafel, couscous, gourmet pizzas and calzones, salads, and desserts, along with a nice Martini and wine menu. The dishes we ordered included Chicken Shwarama, a cheesy mint pizza, and the Kufta Kabob. For my main course, the Kufta Kabob which was described as being ground lamb, I chose a side of glazed sweet potatoes and the rice. While I had never had Kufta before I was with a friend who loved Kufta and what he saw he said did not look like it. I was sadly disappointed when the food was placed in front of me. The Kufta Kabob was not on a skewer like I had originally pictured-perhaps it is a language difference. Instead, it looked like two tiny plain hamburgers were sitting on my plate; but what was worse is that it tasted like that as well. I felt like asking the waitress for two buns and some ketchup. Also, my side of rice had been replaced with vegetables instead. The waitress seemed apologetic enough but 20 minutes later I was still waiting on my rice. Eventually it came and was actually quite good. The seasonings were exotic for my taste-which is what I was looking for. It also had a warm, sweet topping on it. When I asked the waitress about this she said she wasn’t sure what it was but that it was some kind of a vegetable base. By the taste and look I knew it was definitely fruit-based, not vegetable, as I could find golden raisons in the mixture and what looked like cherries.
I tried a slice of the cheesy mint pizza my friend had ordered. I could tell he suffered through it. It was pretty bland except for the mint which overpowered it. As he stated, “If it didn’t have the mint, it would be an acceptable cheese pizza.” It was baked on the delicious pita bread however.
My other guest’s Chicken Shwarama dish tasted the best out of all of ours and was thoroughly envied. It had a nice red coloring but surprisingly also bland for the look of it. I just expected stronger flavors from a Moroccan-Mediterranean dish. Still, hard to go wrong with chicken I suppose.
All in all, the food was not that great but the prices were very affordable, $8-$12 on average. I think if I had to do it over again, I would stick with a salad (they are huge), an appetizer, and the pita bread. I saw 3 ladies share one of the salads at the table next to us-it came on a platter and the dressings are homemade. I enjoyed the atmosphere but I think the wait staff was very, very slow and inexperienced. Food took at least an hour to get to our table after the time we ordered it. We also heard somebody yell from across the restaurant, “Don’t order the couscous, anything but the couscous!” And the ladies at the table next to us never ended up receiving the dessert they had ordered so once they finally caught hold of their waitress again they decided to opt for the check instead. Lastly, our meal was interrupted four times while we were at Saffron by the lights turning off and turning back on which seemed to be caused by a kitchen fan switch.
It is a shame that a restaurant such as Saffron is starting off with so many problems. It seemed to have such great potential but perhaps opened up too quickly. They need more experienced wait staff, more chefs to get the food out quicker, and a look into their electrical wiring before they can start to become a successful restaurant in the Columbia, SC area. I would wait on this restaurant to see if it finds its legs in the next few months before trying it for yourself.
2930 Devine St.
Columbia, SC 29205