Saaz is the Hindi word for “symphony,” it’s like a pleased sigh and an “ahh” put together—the sound one makes at the conclusion of a glorious meal. It’s officially Happy Hour at Saaz in Southampton from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. But I’m yet to spend an unhappy hour—or minute—in this hall of Indian gastronomy!
From owner Samir Mohan’s friendly greeting to the service to the atmosphere to the drinks, it’s the whole package. Oh, and the food. For years, I got my Indian food fix whenever my husband, a modern classical composer, had a performance of his work in the city or at Stony Brook University, with the occasional, desperate side trip to the Chutney Company in Amagansett for a dose of dosa. Now Indian specialties and—the-dream come-to-life—a daily Indian lunch buffet (available for takeout!) are practically a stone’s throw from the Dan’s Papers’ Southampton offices. I was terrified that Indian food this close to my desk would mean that I’d need a new, wider desk chair—and soon. Samir explained that Indian cuisine is all about health, that all ingredients are used for a healthful reason. So I threw my scale away and try to sit up really straight when I eat Indian food like a yogi—to aid digestion.
Saaz is related to the popular Curry Club in East Setauket in that the Curry Club was founded by Samir’s father and future father-in-law. You get the picture. Samir and his beautiful wife Sonia met there and, as Sonia allows Samir to tell it, they’ve been happily married for 17 years now.
What more could one need from a local Indian restaurant? Local wine? Check—Channing Daughters and Wölffer. Cocktails? Check. I quite like the Indian Sunrise. Trust me, the pineapple balances the jalapeno and, yes, you do want the salt along the rim of this pretty vodka drink. Taj Mahal beer? Of course! Free delivery to Southampton? Check. Southern AND northern dishes? You bet. Though the owners grew up in New Delhi, they are both fans of southern specialties. The northern diet is more wheat-based, while the southerners love their rice (sound familiar?). The southern portion of the subcontinent also enjoys more traditionally “Indian” foodways in that the north was more often, and more comprehensively, occupied by invading foreign forces over the centuries. Vegetarian options? Duh.
I try to limit my bread intake when I dine out—but thin, spicy papadum doesn’t count at all. It’s just too light and crispy to really be “bread.” Trust me, Saaz’s naan is good. Too good, I remember it fondly.
I especially like to start with a Samosa Chaat. A large, slightly crushed vegetable samosa filled with gently spiced potatoes and peas atop chickpeas with added goo in the form of coriander and tamarind chutney. I first had this dish on vacation in Montreal at insiders’ favorite Indian-Pakistani restaurant, Sana. So I’ve measured all Samosa Chaats against that first one. Saaz’s version offers up a buoyant spice mix. I could happily make a meal of a couple of these babies, but there are way too many delights on the menu for me to realize that kind of “focus.” Encircled with fresh tomato slices, this Samosa Chaat is far more attractive to the eye than that seminal Montreal Samosa Chaat.
Our server Rohit, whom we’ve been introduced to as “Mini-Me” by Samir, recently suggested we try the Onion Bhaji. Be sure to eat this while it’s still hot from the fryer and you will enjoy the best onion ring-type dish ever.
If you’re afraid of spicy, don’t fear korma. This mellow curry was long considered royal food because it’s so rich with cream. Its other ingredients include onion, ginger, garlic, cashew paste and a touch of cardamom. You can order this sauce blanketing your choice of chicken, fish, goat, beef, lamb, shrimp, tofu or vegetables. My favorite is the tofu because this combo is “double-mellow” and so plays nicely with everything else on the menu. If you want spicy-hot food, Saaz has that too. Try a Vindalu Curry, also available over all of the above choices of protein.
I have to have a Sweet Potato Dosa when we visit Saaz. I can’t make these giant rice and lentil crepes at home. Tear the crepe into manageable pieces, stuff it with some of the sweet potato masala filling and a daub of coconut chutney, dip it in the sambar broth and enjoy. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
My husband most recently indulged in a Chooza Kebob. (Go, ahead, you know you want to say it, “Choose a kebab, any kebab!”) This kebab is all about tender, boneless dark chicken meat marinated in yogurt and spices. As Husband munched, he declared it, “what a kebab should be—tender, flavorful, nicely charred.”
We shared a bowl of perfectly prepared basmati rice, mixing it into all of our dishes, until Husband announced, “I need to stop.”
This was followed by The Look when I pondered aloud the possibility of ending the meal with a mango lassi. Indian leftovers for breakfast began the delicious cycle anew.
Saaz the Symphony of Spices, 1746 County Road 39, Southampton, 631-259-2222, saazindian.com