Swad Tandoori: It's like an old friend back in New London
Do barkers outside ballparks still fall back on the "Can't tell the players without a program!" exhortation? Aside from the general inaccuracy of the statement — unless you're a New York Yankee (or a Boston Red Sox player in Fenway), your name is on the back of your jersey and, as such, anonymity isn't really a problem. A program, then, mostly serves as an overpriced collection of glossy print ads with a few PR puff pieces stuffed inside.
However, "Can't tell the players without a program" does resonate with me in the context of trying to keep track of local restaurants. A large percentage of new and old dining establishments open and close and reconfigure at the approximate speed it took for the Black Plague to erase Europe in the 14th century. Yep, that quick.
For those of you keeping score at home — I know: you appreciate my ability to sustain the comical sports program metaphor — the happenings over the past year or two at 150 State Street in New London have been cause for concern, anxiety, confusion and, at long last, renewed satisfaction. Let me explain.
For years, Northern India occupied the space, and lots of us relied on its very fine indigenous cuisine. It was particularly handy whilst sitting down the block in the Dutch Tavern, from whence you could order food to go, down one more pint, and head home with a succulent meal. As such, it was a melancholy day when NI closed in 2016.
A short time later, a place called Himalayan Kitchen occupied the spot but didn't last long. But wait! Finally, earlier this year, Swad Tandoori Restaurant opened, with many of the same kitchen/front-of-the-house heroes from the original Northern Himalayan onboard, and we are again happy.
It's a small place with wooden tables throughout and two rows fronting State and Green streets. There's a tiny bar, bright lighting, and warm gold and brown accents. The menu is concise and conservative, and the emphasis is to create familiar favorites really well. In addition to appetizers, soups, sides and breads, you can choose from vegetarian, lamb, seafood and chicken entrees and/or clay over (Tandoori) dishes and a few Tibetan specials such as Momo (spiced dumplings filled with your choice of meat) and Shabhaley, a variation on beef empanadas.
Over two recent Swad Tandoori experiences, my wife Eileen — The Vegetarian Who Walks Among Us (TVWWAU) — and I celebrated their presence in our community.
First, soft flour breads are an omnipresent element throughout the Indian dining experience, and Swad Tadoori has seven different types of nan as well as paratha, roti and poori options. We had regular nan ($2.25), poori (an unleavened, puffy deep-fried creation, $2.95), and Pudina Paratha (buttered and layered flatbread rubbed with dry mint, $2.95). Generous servings, all — and the idea is to tear them into pieces to dunk in the accompanying and provided vats of mint chutney, tamarind chutney and thinly-sliced red peppers. The nan and poori were fabulous and just perfect in almost any imaginable dining scenario. As for the pudina parath, well, you'd better like mint. There was no discernible butter to nuance the copious mint, and it was altogether too dry.
For appetizers, I tried Shrimp Pakor ($7.95), which contained five large crustaceans marinated in a variety of herbs and flash-fried. The seasoning was vaguely Cajun without strangling the shrimp flavor, and the coating offered a delicate crunch. E went with Samosa ($3.95), two deep-fried isoceles pastries infused with a piquant spiced potatoes/peas mixture. Chewy and tasty — even cold out of the 'fridge as an impromptu next-day snack. Eileen also sampled the vegetable soup ($4.95), an herby broth spangled with carrots, green beans, corn, peas, tomatoes and onions, all of which conspired to deliver a sneaky heat.
HIGHLIGHT ALERT! We also split an order of Paneer Pakora ($4.95), which are lively squares of battered, fried homemade cottage cheese. Simple? Yes, but one of those things where you beg your heart to let you keep eating them without vaporizing.
Oh, yeah, there were entrees, too. One night I enjoyed Chicken Madras ($7.95 lunch, $12.95 dinner). Large cubes of boneless breast were ordered to drown in a luxuriant curry sauce with a sly coconut presence. You ladle this over the expertly prepped basmati rice, use some of the nan for sauce mop-up, and live it up. On another visit, venturing into the realm of the clay over, I opted for Tandoori Shrimp ($16.95). Again, the shrimp were large and plentiful, grilled simply with a bit of peppery rub and sauteed with red and green peppers and onions. As Churchill woulda said: "Yay!"
Eileen's dinner choices were similarly successful. Chana Masala ($6.95 lunch, $10.95 dinner), a chickpea/potato summit meeting with perfect hints of tumeric and sweetness, was a textural triumph as well, with the vegetables each cooked to identical firmness. She was scared how much she enjoyed it because, other than dutifully trying new stuff for a review, her inviolate go-to Indian dish is Paneer Makhani ($6.95 lunch, $10.95). It's pretty simple: toothy cubes of homemade cheese, onion, and a tomato sauce serenaded by a chorus of fresh herbs. The chef did a marvelous job, and E will now happily alternate entrees whenever she visits Swad Tandoori.
Which, by the way, will be often.
Swad Tandoori Restaurant
Swad Tandoori Restaurant
150 State St., New London, (860) 439-1809, swadtandoorinewlondon.com
Cuisine: Northern Indian
Atmosphere: Comfortable, with appropriately indigenous flourishes
Service: Eager, pleasant; call or order online to-go; delivery available
Prices: Soups, breads and appetizers $2.25-$10.95, entrees $6.95-$8.95 for lunch, $10.95-$20.95 for dinner
Handicapped access: Two swinging doors to get into dining room, but otherwise comfy
Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; Dinner: 4:30-9 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 4:30-9:30 p.m. Fri. and Sat.
Reservations: Suggested for large parties
Credit cards: All majors
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