94 River Road, Shelton (203) 924-2626, bainganindia.com
No sooner had restaurateur Sukra Shrestha opened his Indian restaurant in Hamden in early 2011, than he started hunting for a location for his next venture.
After a year of searching, he secured a building in another area that had been starved of Indian cuisine for as long as foodies can remember: Shelton.
Baingan opened in late March, at the former site of an Italian family restaurant, causing a flutter of excitement among Shelton diners online. "This is the right time to have a restaurant like this," says Shrestha. "Indian cuisine is very popular."
The 100-seat restaurant sits in a lonesome spot on River Road, and the building's dull facade and ugly parking lot hold very little drive-by appeal. But once you walk inside, the main attraction becomes clear.
The view from the rear of the restaurant is stunning, overlooking the Houstatonic River down below and its lush arboreal surroundings. Huge windows give a wonderful open perspective and bless the restaurant with abundant natural light.
The interior décor and layout aren't going to win any awards — the open-plan dining area feels like the tables and chairs could be cleared away at any moment to make room for dancing and a DJ — but the setting more than makes up for that.
The restaurant's best asset is the spacious patio at the rear. Shrestha and co-owner Pramod Kandel, both natives of Nepal, will maximize that advantage by setting up an outside bar in the coming weeks. The business owners have secured permission for the bar and "we're just waiting for good weather," says Shrestha.
In the kitchen, Dipak Gauchan, who is also from Nepal, cooks a range of north- and south-Indian dishes such as popular classics like chicken tikka masala and chicken tandoori (cooked in a specially built "tandoor" or clay oven). There is a huge range of vegetarian options, such as mutter paneer (cheese and peas) and baingan bharta, an oven-baked eggplant dish. (Baingan is the Indian word for eggplant.)
A more unusual menu choice is goat curry, which Shrestha says is typically popular only among Baingan's Indian and Pakistani diners, who make up a very small proportion of the restaurant's customers.
According to Baingan's website blurb, spice in the cuisine is used not to make the food hot but for flavor, as well as for "stimulating the appetite and medicinal advantages." "Our food is absolutely mild," says Shrestha, though he adds that dishes can be made with a spicier kick at a customer's request. Beers to accompany the food include the Indian brews Kingfisher and Taj Mahal and a range of American beers and lagers.
Like many Indian restaurants, the opening hours are long and the value for money is hard to beat. Monday through Saturday Baingan has an all-you-can-eat lunchtime buffet for $8.95, and on Sundays brunch is $11.95.
The buffet lunch is popular with the office crowd, including workers from down the road at the Sikorsky plant, Shrestha says. And indeed, for quick, cheap eats, with the added benefit of a gorgeous view, Baingan will do the job nicely.
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