Food & Drink

Taste This!

Thanksgiving is still a couple of weeks away, but I'm already in a holiday mood. And it isn't because the malls have started putting up Christmas decorations. It's because Diwali starts today.

No, I'm not one of the billion or so Hindus for whom Diwali is a joyful religious celebration. I don't burn oil lamps or light fireworks, as the Hindu faithful do, in celebration of life and new beginnings (though I'd love to travel to India some day to see the sparkling festivities for myself).

I'm in it strictly for the food. Ever since I learned, several years ago, that some Indian restaurants offer a special menu for Diwali, I've been marking the holiday on my calendar. It's the one time each year when I can sample some of the showcase dishes of Indian cuisine, lavish dishes that aren't offered the rest of the year.

And it doesn't get much more lavish than the dishes offered tonight and Saturday night on the Diwali menu at Saffron in Morrisville. Executive chef Gamer Rawat, who worked in world-class Indian restaurants in New Delhi and New York before moving to the Triangle, is pulling out all the stops. Heading up a list of 15 entrees on his special menu is lobster tail marinated in a mild masala blend and cooked in a clay oven. Other feast-worthy fare includes tandoori-roasted leg of lamb that has been marinated whole in rum and spices; chicken stuffed with panir (fresh Indian cheese) and served with a complex, creamy Mughalai sauce; and a tandoori seafood platter featuring lobster tail, king prawn and sea bass. Even the vegetarian entrees include such extraordinary offerings as panir stuffed with mixed pickles and simmered in onion sauce, and mixed vegetables in a sauce thickened with cashew paste.

Ajip Dabre, a waiter at Saffron, says Diwali is one of the most important Hindu holidays, describing it as "like your Christmas." Speaking from an admittedly limited gastronomic standpoint, I heartily agree with his assessment. Certainly, as I'm concluding my feast with an assortment of sweets that includes mango mousse, gulab jamun and rice pudding perfumed with saffron and cardamom, I expect the grin on my face will be as big as any child's on Christmas morning.

What: Diwali dinner

How much: entrees $15-$27

When: today and Saturday, Nov. 5 and 6, dinner only

Where: Saffron, 4121 Davis Drive, in McCrimmon Corners shopping center, Morrisville, 469-5774,