You’re sweating. It feels like the temperature is about 106 and 95 percent humidity. Are you A) sweating through another Kansas City Indian summer scorcher, B) lustily taking another bite of Swagat’s spicy Lamb Vindaloo or C) all of the above? Judging by the last few months, C would be the correct answer. For owner and operator Gurdev Choong, the weather and the cuisine is reminiscent of his homeland, the northern Punjab area of India.
Swagat, located in Zona Rosa, is one of the city’s most lauded and well-respected Indian restaurants. Choong’s family has been in the restaurant business for upwards of 22 years. “We started in the Boston area, and moved to Kansas City because there were very few Indian restaurants here,” says Choong. After working with his family for years in various restaurants, he branched off with Swagat nearly ten years ago, using the Hindi word for “welcome” as its name.
While locals may favor its generous lunch buffet, a steal at $9.95 on weekdays and $10.95 on weekends, this is not your average strip mall buffet joint. Dining at Swagat transports you to a place far away from a 30-minute lunch break. No less than 8 entree options greet you, along with fresh fruit, honey soaked donut balls and coconut soup, as well as hot cups of spiced chai to end your meal.
Swagat’s cuisine is what Choong would describe as northern Indian. Many of the dishes are readily recognizable: tandoori chicken, red with spices and baked in a clay oven until tender or chicken masala, in a rich tomato cream sauce with chicken marinated in a yogurt sauce and spices.
For the more adventurous crowd, try one of the many lamb specialties. Although beef is also available, the slow simmering cooking style of Indian cuisine lends itself to tougher cuts rendered into tender stews of curry, nuts, and dried fruits, making lamb a great departure from normal cowtown fare Swagat also features seafood specialties, something that is uncommon in Indian restaurants in the KC area. Almost any of the sauces, such as masala, Bombay, butter sauce or vindaloo are also offered with shrimp.
There are numerous vegetarian options on the menu, and even a few vegan options. Dive into a plate of fluffy basmati rice topped with saag paneer, a stew of fresh spinach with Indian spices and meaty chunks of dense homemade cheese.
If you love lentils, then the Dal Makni is the perfect choice. Stewed until soft with fresh ginger, garlic and tomatoes, this richly spiced stew is perfect comfort food. The vegetable Korma is another great choice, offering a surprisingly filling combination of potatoes, cauliflower, chickpeas and 9 spices.
Vegetarian platters and Non-Vegetarian platters are available, along with a Vegetarian Dinner for two, featuring vegetable soup, samosas, saag paneer, and vegetable korma, along with sauces and desert. Carnivores will be pleased with Swagat Dinner for two, three or four.
No Indian meal is complete without sauces and Swagat has plenty to choose from. From mango chutney, to a cooling yogurt and cucumber-based raita, and onion and mint chutney, sauces can be mixed and matched, providing a unique flavor combination for every diner.
If you’re missing the naan, or Indian flat bread baked in a clay Tandoor oven, then Swagat has you taken care of. Not only do they offer traditional naan, they also feature no less than 11 different varieties, ranging from garlic naan to pashawary naan, stuffed with nuts and coconut. A stuffed basket for $10.95 offers a sample of four different varieties.
In addition to the vast variety of tasty cuisine, Swagat offers a real sense of atmosphere. Modern Hindi pop plays on the stereo, updating the atmosphere, while a lush and intricate décor welcomes you to enjoy the sumptuous flavors in leisure. Linens drape tables and a rich color palate pleases the eye before the mouth has a chance to get involved. Swagat also boasts some of the most attentive service that I have received in the Northland.
Choong clearly loves his work. “I love being here in Zona Rosa. The space is great and the customers are great,” he says. And his favorite meal? Butter chicken with a side of garlic naan.
In a city like Kansas City, where there are so many options for dining, Swagat is an easy choice for elegance and a bit of adventure. As the temperature cools in KC, let your tastebuds warm up with some of Choong’s family recipes. NL