Dining review: Rewarding adventure awaits at Swad Indian Cuisine

CorrespondentDecember 5, 2013 

  • Swad Indian Cuisine

    9650-145 Strickland Road, Raleigh


    Cuisine: Indian

    Rating:* * *  1/2

    Prices: $$-$$$

    Atmosphere: contemporary, casual

    Noise level: low

    Service: generally attentive, occasional lapses

    Recommended: chicken 65, tandoori chicken, lamb cochin, kerala boat man’s curry, specials

    Open: Lunch and dinner daily

    Reservations: suggested

    Other: full bar; accommodates children; excellent vegetarian selection; parking in lot.

    The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: * * * * *  Extraordinary * * * *  Excellent. * * *  Above average. * * Average. *  Fair.

    The dollar signs defined:$ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $16. $$$ Entrees $17 to $25. $$$$ Entrees more than $25.

The tandoori chicken at Swad Indian Cuisine is some of the best you’ll find in these parts. What’s more, it’s a steal at $20 for a whole chicken (cut up into bone-in parts) – even if you don’t count the bonus: a generous bowl of tikka masala sauce on the side. It’s like getting two of the most popular dishes in the Indian repertoire for the price of one.

But be prepared to wait. Unlike most Indian restaurants, according to general manager Mangesh Taware, Swad doesn’t precook tandoori dishes and then reheat them to order. As a result, you should expect a wait time of 30-45 minutes – though your server may not inform you of that.

Ours didn’t, and we were left wondering about the cause of the delay, which seemed even longer because, as luck would have it, we hadn’t ordered appetizers. Fortunately, our waiter was otherwise on his toes with drink refills and an offer to replenish the complimentary basket of papadums and trio of chutneys that had arrived at our table soon after we were seated. Even so, our mood was beginning to get a bit prickly by the time he arrived with our order.

As soon as we tucked into the chicken, its flesh succulent under an enticingly charred, robustly flavorful spice-and-yogurt marinated surface, all was forgiven. Bowls of basmati rice and coppery, spice-perfumed tikka masala sauce (an unexpected treat not mentioned in the menu description) rounded out the presentation.

I later learned that the sauce comes with all tandoori dishes, from the chef’s signature leg of lamb to the mixed grill (a “mega meat mix of chicken, lamb, shrimp and Bombay fish tossed with grilled onions and bell peppers”) to the tandoori lobster sometimes offered as a weekend special.

But Swad’s attractions are by no means limited to dishes cooked in the clay oven. The Mixed Treats Platter, a vegetarian sampler featuring spinach- and cilantro-stuffed potato cakes, paneer fritters, crisp-crusted samosa and chickpea flour-battered fried onions, offers a convincing demonstration of the kitchen’s versatility.

So does the meat eater’s version, whose highlights include house-made fish fritters and a large samosa filled with a savory hash of minced chicken, lamb and Indian spices. The platter also includes a couple of items cooked on skewers in the tandoor – boneless chicken bites and lamb sausage – which, because of their small size, don’t require lengthy cooking times.

If you’re a fan of spicy fare, Swad’s appetizer rendition of the classic dish chicken 65, liberally spangled with fresh curry leaves and toasted whole red chiles, will get your taste buds humming along in no time.

Entree alternatives to tandoori fare meander all over the flavor spectrum – and the subcontinent – from the delicately spiced, cashew-thickened sauce of korma (Swad offers both chicken and vegetable versions) to the fiery lamb Cochin of the Southwest.

From the coastal waters of the same region as Cochin (aka Kochi), Kerala boat man’s fish curry serves up grilled swai filet over a tomato-and-onion curry amped up with the tropical notes of coconut milk and curry leaf.

Sail up the coast to Goa, where the garlic and vinegar bite of lamb vindaloo are pungent souvenirs of the historic influence of Portuguese spice traders on the region’s culture. Farther up the coast – almost all the way to Pakistan – you’ll discover the gentle spice of bhindi Jaisalmer, okra cooked in the Gujurati style.

Then it’s a long overland trek to India’s northernmost reaches, for Kashmiri-style lamb bhuna: cubes of lamb simmered to tender submission in a sauce perfumed with crushed fennel seeds.

Regardless of your gastronomic itinerary, the adventure is apt to be a rewarding one. With owner/chef Jasbir Singh Bola at the helm, you can expect a smooth ride, with turbulence usually amounting to nothing more than a dish spiced a degree or two off the requested level.

Bola, who has worked in a number of area restaurants (and is currently part-owner of Dawat in Morrisville, where partner Harinder Singh does the cooking), opened Swad in August in Harvest Plaza shopping center. The location, in a part of North Raleigh that has lacked a convenient Indian restaurant, bodes well for Swad’s success. Especially when you factor in the restaurant’s warmly inviting contemporary setting and full bar. Not to mention some of the best tandoori chicken around. or

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