Jan. 30, 2013 - Issue #902: Come cry with Daniel Romano
The tropics come north
Filling the void of Caribbean cuisine
And we're talking about a pretty unpretentious place here—the tiny storefront Siamese-twinned to Battista's Calzone Co on 118 Avenue holds just a few tables, plus a ledge with stools along the window. It's in no way fancy inside, but it's clean and liminally colourful, with a flat screen TV, a tall glass cabinet full of Jamaican music compilations and a couple of UFC DVDs, a poster that takes in MLK, Mandela and Marley in one fell swoop, and one patron who always seems to be occupying the corner table. Obviously, he quite likes it.
I've eaten at Safron's before, and while I remember enjoying the Escoveitched fish—maybe you should try it if you don't know what it is—I also remember that I only had the choice of that and one other entrée from the much longer list on the menu board. It's mostly a lunch place with dinner hours on weekends, so if you show up in the evening, your choices are narrowed by the day's business.
And so it was with this visit. On a Friday night, I walked up to the young woman behind the counter—perhaps the one who some online commenters have accused of unfriendliness—and said, "What's good today?"
"Well, I can tell you what we have left—there's chicken curry, jerk chicken and oxtail," she said, adding with a smile, "And it's all good." I strained to detect the least rancour from her in any of our subsequent interactions, but she was never less than courteous and pleasant.
My co-diner and I took one each of the remaining chicken of the jerk and curry variety, and took the servers's endorsement of D&G soda ($2.50), a strikingly iridescent example of sugary fizz-water, in pineapple and "kola champagne" (aka cream soda, kind of) flavours. If I had it to do over, I'd have gone with Ting, an astringently citrusy fizz-water that's ideal for staunching Scotch bonnet burn. You can also get Red Stripe, as Safron's is licenced, or perhaps another West Indian beer that doesn't taste like socks.
It was really no time at all until co-diner and I were confronted with our selections—big platters of our selected main with creamy coleslaw and a big old heap of rice and peas. Mine took the form of a chicken leg and thigh shellacked with aromatic jerk spices—usually comprising some magical mélange of allspice, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, thyme and garlic, not to mention Scotch bonnet pepper, near relative of the notoriously potent habenero. It had been simmered so perfectly that the meat fell off the bone when I pointed my utensils at it. I may have even been undignified making sure the bones were denuded of moist, spicy, savoury chicken. Extra jerk sauce had been spooned over the rice and peas, which are actually rice and kidney beans and can, when done right, be a satisfying meal all on their own. Safron's rice and peas fell a little short of that, but were more than respectable. The slaw was fresh and crunchy, both underrated qualities in slaw, and helped ease the artfully layered spiciness of the jerk spice. Co-diner's main was a pool of turmeric-tinted chunks of chicken breast, carrot and potato in coconut-creamy gravy. It all tasted really good, though I found the chicken in the curry a little dry. Co-diner had no such issue.
It wasn't entirely necessary, but we decided to see if there was any dessert left. As luck would have it, the only dessert they had was the only one we wanted: sweet potato pudding ($4.75). Listen well: this sweet potato pudding is for sharing. The big slab of dense, dark orange not-quite-cake was so moist and rich we had to erode it away in little stabs of our forks, giving time for each molasses-y, gingery, sweet-potato-y morsel to fully detonate on our tongues.
Despite the many disappointments the Internet warned us Safron's had in-store, I saw no one but satisfied customers in the chairs around us. Could it be that the Internet misled us? I shudder to think it might be true, but prospective patrons might want to adjust their expectations by calling ahead to see what Safron has cooking.
Safron's Caribbean Delight
8307 118 Ave,
780.474.9005 vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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