Restaurant critics often go on about “hidden gems,” out-of-the-way places that deserve more recognition. They don’t usually mean the place is literally hidden, the way Guru the Caterer seems to be. Google Maps guided me to its address, and still I thought, “I’m lost or it’s closed.” From the street, I could barely detect a sign and saw no windows, lights, or customers. But I walked up anyway, and to my surprise found a line of folks snaking from a dark sidewalk through a dimly lit doorway into a big, bright kitchen with a wee takeout counter. I even bumped into an old friend who lives nearby and loves the joint.
It’s not hard to see why. Guru was catering-only for four years before starting takeout service this year. They plate a fantastic, mainly Northern Indian dinner of a meat entrée, a vegetable side, plain basmati rice, and bread for $8.50. The included tawa roti — griddle-browned flatbread with the toasty flavor of whole wheat — is exceptional. On one visit, I enjoyed chicken palak, a soft purée of spinach with chunks of boneless chicken thigh in a sweetly spiced curry, including a whole cinnamon stick. A side of kala chana featured nicely firm black chickpeas in a completely different curry with the crisp zing of fresh ginger. On another trip, the main attraction was chicken tikka masala, a familiar, westernized Punjabi dish of boneless breast chunks in a creamy tomato sauce. If all tikkas are as brightly flavored as this, I can understand why it’s the most popular dish in Britain. The vegetable side was shahi paneer, little squares of firm Indian farmer cheese in a velvety pumpkin-colored curry with the unmistakable richness of ground nuts.
You could add a starter, like a pair of bulging samosas ($2), greaselessly fried and filled with minced lamb and cubes of potatoes, plus a ketchup-y chutney for dipping. Or you might add some contrast with a little tub of seafoam-green raita ($1) or fresh, peppery mango chutney ($2.50). For something sweet, try a mango lassi ($2.50) or kheer ($2), a chunky Indian-style rice pudding. The real trick won’t be finding something delicious on Guru’s short dinner menu, or paying its paltry prices, but simply finding the damned place. It will be well worth the trouble.
Guru the Caterer, located at 1297 Broadway, in Somerville, is open Monday through Saturday, from 11:30 am to 7:30 pm. Call 617.319.4392.