780 N. Jefferson St.
Milwaukee Wisconsin 53202United States
Great downtown location, fun and frothy drinks but this new Indian/Thai restaurant has a few culinary challenges.
This combination Indian/Thai restaurant, opened in June 2011, shows promise, but on a recent visit, we found that there were some kinks to be worked out. Of the five dishes we ordered, three were outstanding, one just OK, and one should not have been served. Predinner, diners receive a toasted piece of naan to share -- good, but plain; dipping sauce would have been nice. The appetizer menu is fascinating, ranging from satay with peanut sauce to kukura bhindi (a mix of crispy okra, tomato, pepper and pickled onion). The kung chup pang thod is lovely: three huge panko-crusted prawns atop a mango dice with a creamy-hot curry sauce in three decorative smudges around the plate. Tom kha soup is just as good: creamy, with cilantro, lemongrass and a trio of sliced red peppers. There are shiitake mushrooms in the soup, too, which is surprising -- in a good way. The paneer shashlik salad, which has large, thick triangular slices of cheese, is less awesome: The texture of the cheese is rubbery rather than crisp. The veggies and garam masala vinaigrette are the saving grace of this dish. It's tough to select an entree from Zaafaran, because they all sound so good -- from noodle dishes and curries to kabobs and tandoori-roasted meats. Indian butter chicken curry is outstanding, served in a small white bowl with another bowl full of jasmine rice. An accompanying plate would be nice, to mix the two, but nothing matters once you taste the spicy, buttery, orange-color sauce and large, tender pieces of chicken. The black pepper beef, however, was not good when we tried it. We think they waited one day too long before cooking the beef. The peppercorn sauce was flavorful, but there was not quite enough of it -- even if the steak had been perfect. The sauteed spinach that came with it was excellent and the veggies (rainbow chard and shiitake) were good, julienned, crispy and very spicy. Nothing, however, could have made the beef palatable. This dish is an indication of why the restaurant was empty at 7:30 on a Tuesday night. Drinks are a bright spot: orange mamuang (mango puree and mandarin vodka) and pineapple upside-down cake, which, despite the brilliant pink hue, really does taste like bakery. The decor is the other winner: cool, contemporary and comfy, with lounge areas looking out over busy Jefferson Street, and ample dining space. The location is stellar, right off Cathedral Square in downtown Milwaukee.