In a word: No one on the corner has Swagat like this.
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Chuck, JM, Kari, Nichole and the kids ate the chicken tikka masala, palak chole, shahi paneer korma (x2: one hot, one mild), chicken madras, and sides of samosa chat, pappadum and naan.
The bill was about $15/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole gave Swagat an A- (see our grading rubric).
We had really missed eating Indian food. Swagat was the first memorable Indian restaurant on the List since back-to-back Maharaja and Maharani in 2008 (we didn't care for Flavor of India, and we narrowly missed Spice N Curry, which used to be between Sow's Ear and Sprecher's but changed ownership and became Turmeric in early October 2010). Warming up Patak's at home is a poor substitute.
Swagat follows a familiar pattern for Indian restaurants in Madison (and perhaps elsewhere?): lunch buffet and dinner service. There is a South Indian section of the menu, but as much as we admire the cuisine of the Subcontinent, we know we both remain at a Sandra Lee level of sophistication about it. So we'll stick to simple observations.
We started with some carbs, and were happy. Plain naan were served hot, tender and fresh. Peshawary naan, stuffed with finely chopped almonds, plump raisins, coconut flakes, uncannily red canned cherries and fennel seed, was buttery and sweet. The poppadum were crispy and fragrant and came with the standard three-relish formula: a tangy, crisp onion relish; a thick, jellylike tamarind sauce; and a forgettable mint/pepper sweet chutney.
The biggest treats were the samosa chat. The fried, battered potato turnovers had an interesting mix of crunchy and soft textures and a mint/pepper/sweet imflection similar to the green chutney, but we thought it worked better here.
We all headed for comforting favorites. To our companions, that was the shahi paneer korma. The soft cheese cubes were in a sweet, creamy tomato-based sauce with ginger, garlic and onion. We sampled both mild and medium-hot versions, though we confess we confused the identical brass dishes soon after they reached the table. The kids loved both - we don't know if that's a testament to their precocious spice tolerance or if it says something about the spice scale in Swagat's kitchen.
To JM, Indian comfort food is chicken tikka masala. Here it's served without surprises. It was simple white meat in that thick tomato sauce, cooked "Tandoori-style," with a creamy swirl on top. Because he can compare it to all the others he's had, he notes that it is one of the more flavorful and rich presentations of the dish in town. Yum yum!
Nichole's into palak chole. She asked for medium heat, and the the soupy spinach-and-garbanzo stew was also not very spicy. By contrast, Chuck's chicken madras in "special sauce" with medium heat had a good bite.
The stuff-and-sauce dishes had a generous stuff:sauce ratio. We didn't have to go fishing for our paneer and meat. Five entrees between four grownups and two kids left us with one to-go box.
We observed that the dinner rush started slow, with lots of solo diners. By the time we left about 7:30 (after hot towels - a nice touch) the place was full but never did we see a line to get in. That ought to change for food this good.