Skip to main content

Omaha Magazine

A New Era: Saffron Urban Indian Kitchen Elevates Omaha’s Dining Scene

Dec 27, 2022 08:21AM ● By Megan Bartholomew

Saffron’s Chicken Chile: an aromatic mix of chicken, bell neppers, onion, tomato, and jalapeño stir-fried in a sweet and spicy sauce.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

Omaha’s dining scene offers nearly endless possibilities, especially in the concentrated hub of Aksarben Village. However, few match the urban splendor and aromatic dishes of a newer addition to the shopping center’s cast of characters: Saffron Urban Indian Kitchen. 

With soaring ceilings, trendy furnishings, and a contemporary architectural finish, Saffron’s city-chic vibe delivers an airy urban retreat, raising the bar high for fine Indian cuisine. Every space in Saffron’s dining area has been carefully curated; a wine tasting room boasts modern-industrial lighting and floor-to-ceiling wine displays, and the sleek bar area provides a view directly into the heart of the kitchen.

Facilitated by the minds behind Omaha favorites Kathmandu Momo Station and Nori Sushi, Saffron Urban Kitchen boasts a small tried-and-true menu of Indian staples, with added focus on freshness delivered by a small-batch mentality. 

“We have a lot of the same menu items as other Indian restaurants, but the experience we want to give is a combination of elevated food, drinks, and service,” said chef Diwesh Bhattarai. “We want to bring great quality and clean ingredients to the table.” 

That mantra is recognizable throughout Saffron’s menu. The chicken tikka masala features rich and creamy tomato curry sauce, infused with visibly fresh herbs and spices. Each biryani is garnished with freshly chopped vegetables, prepared daily by Bhattarai and his team of cooks. All contributing to the overarching goal of the restaurant’s team: an elevated Indian dining experience. 

“We didn’t want to do something entirely fine dining, but very ‘New York,’” explained Rocky Shrestha, host and part owner of Saffron. “It’s very laid back, sticking with a modern, casual, chef-centric vibe.”

A passion for cooking is something that Bhattarai developed a bit later in life. He originally landed in Omaha in 2007 as an engineering and information technologies student. While completing his degree, Bhattarai worked as a dishwasher at the now-shuttered Tandoori Fusion restaurant, under the guidance of chef Raj Bhandari.  

Tender ribeye, spicy vindaloo sauce, and basmati rice converge in Saffron’s Beef Vindaloo entree.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.


In my progress through that kitchen, I fell in love with the restaurant industry,” Bhattarai said. “I didn’t worry about the time while I was there, and realized this is something I could do for my whole life.” 

However, newly married Bhattarai didn’t take the leap right away. For several years, he continued with a career in engineering with a role in IT at FirstData while dabbling in further kitchen work alongside his wife, Aagya Subedi, who is part owner of Kathmandu Momo Station.

“The passion for food kept growing in me, so I changed absolutely everything,” Bhattarai affirmed. 

Chef Bhattarai went back to school, completing degrees in both culinary arts and hospitality at Metropolitan Community College, and continued his hands-on industry and management learning in the kitchens of Kathmandu Momo Station and Nori Sushi. Within these settings, with the help of business parters Shrestha and Sagar Gurung, Bhattarai and his wife were able to take their love of cooking from their home to the Omaha dining community.  

In early 2020, what started as casual conversation among industry friends set Saffron Urban Indian Kitchen on the path from concept to full-fledged enterprise. Bhattarai, Gurung, and Shrestha had been discussing their desire for more high-end Indian dining experiences in the city. 

“We were dreaming, really, but then this space opened up and we thought ‘you know what, let’s go for it,’”  Bhattarai recalled.  

After six months of careful planning, that dream of elevated Indian cuisine became a reality with a next-level concept: Bhattarai’s expertly crafted menu items, a chic interior, and specialty cocktails.

Salmon meets creamy masala sauce over a bed of basmati rice in Saffron’s Curried Salmon plate.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.


The bar lineup consists of reimagined classics, each concocted by award-winning bartenders with Indian twists. Their rum is sourced from a small distillery in India; the Bombay Old Fashioned is infused with chai, orange, and chocolate flavors; and the tequila-based Torchlight delivers a hint of spice balanced by fresh cucumber and honey. 

“You don’t see many casual dining restaurants with a full bar, especially when they serve Indian cuisine,” Bhattarai said. “We saw the bar as an element that could be a great opportunity to elevate the experience. Guests can enjoy delicious food, and a nice drink. What more could you want?” 

Drinks paired with Saffron’s from-scratch menu provide diners an array of unique, yet complementary flavor profiles. The culinary skill delivered with each serving is readily apparent; the deep knowledge presented by Chef Bhattarai leaves an impression on customers and fellow employees alike. 

“I came into this project with an impression that Indian food is basically chaos,” Shrestha confessed. “What I saw was a mess of no measuring, where everything is eyeballed and there is no structure, like you see in French cooking, for example. In working with Diwesh, I’ve learned that the chefs who really can cook know exactly what each ingredient does, and use it to their advantage. No matter the cooking style, his knowledge is pretty impressive.” 

Though culinary chops are requisite for any upscale restaurant, at the heart of Saffron’s panache and polish is Chef Bhattarai’s exacting attention to detail.

“He wants things executed perfectly,” Shrestha said. “It is great to have a leader who is so engaged.” 

The team shared that, while nearly all customers leave Saffron immensely satisfied, if even one negative comment makes its way to Chef Bhattarai, he’s certain to course-correct, down to the last detail. 

“I could be here working on this menu all day, and I love getting better every day,” he said. “I love the daily challenges, and I love being appreciated for what we are creating. It keeps me motivated.”

While Bhattarai maintains a standard of personal perfectionism, according to Shrestha, the typical high-pressure kitchen environment is nowhere to be found at Saffron. Guests seated at the bar are likely to hear snatches of good-humored banter and laughter bouncing between chefs and the front-of-house team across the counter.

“Most big kitchens are chaotic, noisy, and have an army-like hierarchy,” Shrestha said. “Ours is very laid back. Diwesh makes it peaceful. He makes it a priority to treat employees with respect and to keep them as involved as possible.” 

Chef Diwesh’s unique vision has taken Saffron Urban Indian Kitchen from an empty space in Aksarben Village to a beloved industry favorite in less than two years, with many fresh offerings yet to come. Continued visits to Saffron may reveal a brand-new select whiskey bar for tastings, a ceiling installation of forest greenery, and a lush pergola for next season’s summer dining days. 

“We are very young and are still learning all the time,” Bhattarai said. “No matter what, you can’t do any of this by yourself. We are building a really solid team first and foremost, and after we’ve grown we would love to expand in the future.” 

Visit saffronurbankitchen.com for more information.

Saffron’s Chicken Chile: an aromatic mix of chicken, bell neppers, onion, tomato, and jalapeño stir-fried in a sweet and spicy sauce.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

 

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  
Omaha Magazine | Health & Wellness Issue Highlights | January 2023
Evvnt Calendar