When I was growing up, my knowledge and taste of Indian cuisine was chicken in yellow curry powder sauce made by my Sicilian Nana when she decided we all needed to learn to have some "exotic" tastes.
Trust me, Nana was legendary for her Sunday Sauce, but the curried chicken was not her finest hour -- probably because of the Parmesan cheese she added at the end. She believed in Parmesan cheese.
But today, and especially in our region, excellent Indian food is available and diners have moved way beyond curried chicken into true regional specialties.
Saffron, hidden away in between a hardware store and a flower shop on busy Westport Avenue, is a pleasing little find. With simple but inviting decor and warm, prompt service, the place is charming from the outset.
On each of our visits, most of the tables were filled with diners of Indian descent, all of whom seemed to know exactly what to order. So we followed their recommendations, though our waiter was just as forthcoming in deciphering the classic Indian restaurant menu.
After several samplings, we especially liked the intriguing flavors of the fragrant sauces and the juicy tandoor specialties.
Of particular note, and often available on the lunch buffet (a real bargain at $9.95 on weekdays), are gobi aloo masal with cauliflower and potatoes in a mildly spiced gravy and saag chicken in a delicate spinach sauce.
For those of us who love heat and spice, there's raseela rajimah in a complex red lentil gravy or lamb vindaloo as pure pepper tempered with coconut.
Shrimp in garlic butter masala has wide appeal, similar to Italian shrimp scampi, but with the extra hit of spice.
Soups are very appealing here, especially a light but memorably spiced tomato soup or the rich lentil and vegetable soup.
Pleasing, but not as interesting, is fried fish amsitsari, which tastes a bit like seasoned fish sticks, though the lovely dipping sauce is far better than the usual American ketchup.
Similarly, the mixed vegetable pakoras, aloo tikki and vegetable samosas are a tad on the bland and heavy side, though the array of dipping sauces brings flavor and personality.
Breads, universally known as Indian specialties and loved by everyone, including Nana, are winners here. From the plain or butter naan to the onion kulcha and the saffron palak roti, be sure to order at least one bread.
Note that fresh warm naan comes gratis to the table with the lunch buffet -- reason alone to spend a noon time here.
Instead of the usual rice pudding or gulab jamun, which I still find to be an acquired taste, stay with mango or pistachio ice creams, which fill the traditional sweet and dairy ending to an Indian meal.
Charming in a simple way, the real appeal at Saffron is the congenial owners who truly want you to enjoy the meal and leave happy -- just like Nana.
333 Westport Ave., Norwalk, 203-295-8393, www.norwalksaffron.com
HOURS: Lunch daily noon-3 p.m. Dinner Sunday-Thursday 5-10 p.m.; Friday, Saturday 5-10:30 p.m.
CREDIT CARDS: AE, V, MC
DINNER PRICES: Appetizers $16.95-$3.95; main courses $18.95-$8.95