Healthy Dine Finds
Swagat & Bo Lings
Story by Dave Eckert
Ethnic restaurants are often great sources for healthier dining options. Many cuisines the world over have more vegetarian-centric dishes with less emphasis on the red meat and deep-fried foods that seem to permeate much of America’s culinary offerings. Today, I bring you two such local eateries -Swagat Fine Indian Cuisine and Bo Lings Chinese Restaurant. Both restaurants, Swagat in Zona Rosa, and Bo Lings, with six area locations, are long-tenured, beloved institutions in Kansas City. And both, as recent dining experiences proved, provide excellent options for those seeking healthier menu options along with plenty of choice.
I first visited Swagat where I spoke to the engaging Gurden Choong, who has been in the Kansas City restaurant industry since 1995. “We opened our first place in Overland Park, then a second one there as well at 95th and Metcalf, and finally Swagat in Zona Rosa in 1999, so 20 years,” Choong told me. “We’ve actually had five restaurants in the metro. We’ve sold a couple over the years, but we’re still here at Swagat!” And, his secret to success? Choong says it’s hard work. “I’m successful but I don’t have a life. I’m here all the time. This is my second home-sometimes I’m here seven days a week,” Choong shared.
As I could tell from looking around the dining room, Swagat Fine Indian Cuisine draws a loyal, local audience. Choong says his customers have been dining with him for years, and he now sees kids that used to come in with their parents dining here as adults with their own children. I can see why. We sampled a little bit of everything at Swagat and it was all good. Especially delicious, though not particularly healthy, are the curries. Some pack a bit of a wallop (ask your waiter if you are spice-sensitive), but they are all well-balanced and loaded with flavor.
I asked Choong for some healthier recommendations from his menu. He was happy to oblige. “I would say maybe the cauliflower and potato, and we have fresh okra, and I really like the Kadai, which is cooked with chunks of onions, bell peppers, and spices,” Choong said. Choong also cited the Saad, a puree of fresh spinach and mustard greens prepared with a variety of spices. It’s a large menu at Swagat, so you’re sure to find something to suit your taste and desired caloric intake. And, you’re almost sure to find Gurden Choong there too. Tell him I said hello!
I had the chance to dine at Bo Lings twice for this article, the first time in its Zona Rosa location, and the second where I caught up with owner Theresa Ng at the expansive Country Club Plaza space. Both meals were excellent, but the dinner on the Plaza and a visit with Ng really fit the mold of Healthy Dine Finds. “Everything is made fresh, so no matter what you order it’s going to be fresher and healthier,” Ng said.
Ng had two salads, one with mushrooms and cabbage, and a second with garlic and cucumber, along with an order of spring rolls waiting for us when we arrived. The three dishes couldn’t have been any more indicitive of the season or the restaurant’s commitment to the very best, freshest ingredients. “We use lean pork and only all white chicken meat. Even with the Beijing Duck (my personal favorite), we trim off all the fat,” Ng said. “In a year and a half, Bo Lings is turning 40, and we’ve maintained our consistency through the years.”
For our entrees, I chose the whole flounder, which was steamed with garlic, scallions, and soy sauce. Ng expertly filleted it for me tableside. It was terrific, and honestly, enough to serve two. My wife, meantime, selected the sizzling rice platter with scallops, shrimp, and chicken. Again, the portion was extremely generous and loaded with expansive flavors. Since we live in the Northland, it’s more difficult for us to get to The Plaza, but Zona Rosa is a straight shot, and after dining at the Bo Lings there and chatting with partner/owner Karmen Zhang, we’ve got numerous reasons to revisit Bo Lings. Before we left The Plaza, though, I wanted to get Ng’s thoughts on the next 40 years of Bo Lings history. “Well, I won’t be here, but I spend a lot of time working with the next generation to make sure the transition is smooth and Bo Lings will continue to be known for the delicious, healthy food we have for the first 40-years,” Ng told me. I won’t be here either, but hopefully, my children will, and that’s something for them to look forward to.