If Fergus Henderson of St. John is one of the most important figures in contemporary British cuisine, Yotam Ottolenghi is another. Their food does not have much in common—where Henderson is famous for cooking in a re-articulated English vernacular, Ottolenghi’s food slants more Mediterranean. But in other ways their philosophies seem similar: both do a lot with vegetables; both eschew the trappings of high-powered fine dining for more casual service—Ottolenghi is most known for his delis which offer mostly take-out service, and even at the locations with formal seating the menus are not heavy on cooked to order items; both also embrace a non-fussy approach to cooking and plating—at neither St. John nor at Ottolenghi are you going to find multiple elements and techniques on a plate and nor is prettification a goal in the presentation. Both seek, you might say, to elevate the humble; both also embrace communal dining as an aesthetic/experience: at St. John you are at separate tables but feel like you are in a mess hall; at Ottolenghi long communal dining tables are the norm.
Saffron, which is located across the street from 112 Eatery in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis, opened in 2006. Some five years later, as far as I can tell from older reviews, it underwent some sort of an image makeover. I gather it had been a more formal restaurant in its original incarnation, with a more traditional menu structure. As of 2011/12 it apparently got rid of some of the formal trappings and the menu was redone to emphasize a large number of small plates for sharing and fewer larger main courses. I’m not able to say what the original version of the restaurant was like but I can say we quite enjoyed the food at our recent dinner at the current incarnation. The restaurant itself as a space left us a little cold (but more on that later). Continue reading