There are a number of very good Indian restaurants in Connecticut. The problem I have found with most of them is they are uneven. One time the meal will be stellar, the next time lackluster. My guess is it depends on who is cooking in the kitchen. The menu may stay the same, but the food is uneven.
The constant level of good cooking is one reason to applaud Baingan.
I did not know about Baingan until some friends told me about it. What they focused on was the buffet, served daily. To my friends’ delight, the buffet was one of the great bargains around. Although in this column I try to guide my readers to affordable places, I am at heart somewhat skeptical when the main reason to eat somewhere is “it’s cheap and you get a lot.”
The Baingan buffet is worth the trip to Shelton. Neatly laid out on a steam table are many dishes, often the same food that is on the extensive menu. There are meat dishes, vegetarian dishes, light foods and rib stickers. There are Indian breads, rice, raita and exotic desserts. The cost for the buffet is an amazingly low. Even more amazing is that it is truly all you can eat. If you need 12 plates of chicken curry to feel satiated, Baingan has no problem.
I hesitate to name actual dishes served at the buffet because they are different each day. The dishes I will mention are on the large menu, available for takeout or eat in, and you might find them on the steam table as well.
I adore Indian breads. Naan made in a tandoor oven: plain, or garlicky, or filled with lamb or roasted chicken. The Kulcha breads come stuffed with onions and fresh coriander. Paratha is a hearty bread that contains peas and potatoes, dried mint and cheese, and my all time favorite Poori, the whole wheat bread that arrives puffed up like a blowfish and slowly deflates like a sigh. I can make a perfect meal out of any of these breads, along with raita (a spiced yogurt and cucumber dip) and a mango lassi (a yogurt and fruit “milkshake”). If you have simple tastes like I (occasionally) have, you can feast for very little money.
There is nothing on the menu that I would call expensive. You get a lot of bang for the buck eating here. There are two expansive dining rooms, both with comfortable booths and tables. The service is also a plus. The waiters and floor manager keep an eagle eye out for anything you may need.
So here are some of the best things I ate at Baingan. Some are familiar and some rarely seen on any Connecticut menus.
To start off saying “get the lentil soup” sounds so boring and old-lady like, but get it. It is perfectly seasoned and not so heavy that you will have trouble with the following courses. I found it perked my appetite rather then destroyed it.
The kitchen at Baingan makes a terrific Biryani. The base of a good Biryani is aromatic basmati rice, cooked with an amalgam of spices and nuts, and combined with lamb, chicken, shrimp, all of the mentioned proteins or just plain vegetables. The portions are huge, and the perfume coming off the dish is transcendental.Read Full Article
I love anything cooked in a tandoor oven if only for the fact that I don’t own one. A real tandoor oven is not something you can pick up at Williams-Sonoma. At Baingan the tandoori is used to quickly blast cook meat and seafood kebabs that have been marinating overnight. A tandoor oven is an art to use correctly, the food you pull off the skewer has to be moist and juicy not dried and desiccated. Boti Kabab is a classic cubed lamb flavored with ginger and garlic. There is a light and delicious Salmon kebab, the fish having marinated overnight in yogurt. In the “how do they do it?” category is the vegetarian Paneer Saslik, a soft cheese cooked with spicy tomato, onions and red peppers. Have you ever put soft cheese in an intensely hot oven? I have and it was a mess, not a neat and pretty kebab.
If you are a classicist, do not hesitate to order the Vindaloos or curries. I loved the Methi Chicken, a curry spiked with the intense herb fenugreek. Lamb Vindaloo is fiery cubes of lamb cooked with mild potatoes and a splash of vinegar.
I cannot leave this review without mention of some very unusual dishes you will not find elsewhere. Zaffrani Gosht is an exotic stew of lamb, saffron, cashew nuts, raisins, royal cumin and tomato. There is Chicken Patia: spiced chicken cooked in an onion gravy with mangos, tomatoes, spices and cream. Chicken Momo is marinated in Nepali spices, then wrapped in dough and steamed, sided by a spicy sauce and what sounds like the worlds most perfect comfort food, Cheese Butter Masala, described on the menu as “cheese and butter cooked in a mild creamy tomato sauce.”
Damn the cholesterol; full speed ahead.
Jane Stern, a Ridgefield resident, coauthored the popular “Roadfood” guidebook series with Michael Stern. Join her each week as she travels Fairfield County finding a great meal in unexpected places for $20 or less.