When we first broke the news about Swetha Newcomb’s restaurant Clear opening in Overland Park this year, she was specific about not wanting it to be labeled as “Indian food” — because it isn’t, exactly.
Newcomb, who was born in India but grew up in Kansas City, relies heavily on his heritage to create dishes born of both worlds. She describes her food as new American food with an Indian influence. Since opening, however, the chef has proudly leaned into his heritage, and we’re officially classifying Of Course as an Indian fusion fine-dining restaurant. We also named it Restaurant of the Year 2023.
During his years as a private chef, Newcomb developed a style of his own – a kind of world fusion cuisine that, while certainly influenced by his Indian roots, couldn’t be put in a box.
“I thought, ‘Why not combine everything that’s popular here in the Midwest with things I grew up eating and couldn’t live without?’” says Newcomb.
She admits she “struggled a little” during the early days of her restaurant as she tried to get to know her customer base. Sometimes she leaned too traditional, other times too nouveau. Finding an identity is a common difficulty in the fusion genre, but Newcomb found her sweet spot. The 28-year-old chef linked his menu to two basic characteristics: familiarity with the Midwest combined with elevated Indian flavor.
A strong bourbon program and 22-ounce, 21-day-old Akaushi wagyu steak (a menu staple) are how Newcomb chose to pay homage to its location on the southern tip of Johnson County. Of Course is tucked away in the newly developed Bluhawk shopping center, neighboring fast-casual chains like Five Guys and Jinya Ramen.
“We didn’t know what it would look like, but (Johnson County) is extremely excited,” Newcomb says. “They’ve never had anything like this, and there are no fine restaurants around until you get to Leawood. They feel like they are heard and seen.”
As is common in Indian cuisine, there is no shortage of aromatic spices. Newcomb’s mother, Geetha Gondi, who is from Hyderabad, India, came before the restaurant’s opening to teach her daughter’s staff how to make gunpowder masala, a spice cocktail used in a variety of dishes. The egg curry, with its sweet and tangy tomato base, is also Gondi’s recipe, but Newcomb puts her own spin on it with bits of crispy sage and lightly toasted buttery sourdough in place of the traditional naan.
“She’s almost more of a food supplier representative,” Newcomb says of her mother. “She will leave out different spices and ingredients that she thinks we should use.”
Floral cardamom strips the sticky toffee pudding cake of its rich sweetness. The signature dish of pav bhaji, Newcomb’s riff on classic Indian street food, warms up with sprinkles of mango powder, cloves, coriander, star anise and more. Even the fries become poetic with a heavy dose of peri peri seasoning. Dishes you’ve seen before, like lamb ragu and scallops, have been infused with masala, pistachio dukkah or curry leaf tadka.
“I don’t want us to be compared to other Indian restaurants,” says Newcomb.
There is no doubt: it is clear that he is on his own path. Fire-orange lobster tails and whole branzinos situated upright on a bed of rice, with their mouths open staring straight at you, are some of the more luxurious counterparts on the menu.
There’s also a double-ground fatty angus brisket burger topped with a mountain of caramelized onions for those looking for something a little more Midwestern. “There’s something about being at a fancy restaurant and eating a fat burger that’s really satisfying,” says Newcomb. But the rest of the menu is unapologetic in its devotion to Newcomb’s home country, featuring an immaculate collection of shareable starters and entrees leveraging the flavors of his childhood.
The dining room is a class act, filled with modern, warm earthy tones for an intimate, cozy vibe. It’s a refreshing change of pace for this part of the suburbs. The cocktail and wine menus were curated by some of KC’s top talent, including Jay Sanders, owner of James Beard-nominated cocktail bar Drastic Measures, and Eric Noblet of liquor store UnKCorked. Sam Johnston now runs the cocktail program, and chef de cuisine Adam Amick-Sorvaag helps execute Of Course’s eclectic menu.
Newcomb met her general manager, Lauren Cruz, while the two were working at The Capital Grille — Newcomb in the kitchen and Cruz in the dining room.
“We both had fiery personalities,” says Newcomb. “I have always dreamed of opening a woman-owned restaurant and Lauren knows everything about the fine dining industry. We work in a lot of toxic environments, so we learned what not to do when we opened this place.”
Of course it feels like a tribute to those who, like me, grew up experiencing multiple cultures, those who had to navigate the complex dance of diversity. Newcomb’s ability to elevate his heritage cuisine while keeping things cozy for those of us trying it for the first time—and doing it all with style—makes Claro our best new restaurant.
“My vision behind this is to give Indian food the credit it deserves,” says Newcomb.