When I called for nominations a couple of months ago for Best Indian in our Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants, Guru, a Clermont restaurant, kept popping up as a write-in candidate.
I wasn’t familiar with the restaurant, so I headed west to check it out. And when I got there I was surprised to learn that I’ve known the owner for nearly 30 years.
His name is Uday Kadam, and I first reviewed his restaurant in May of 1990. That restaurant was Passage to India, on International Drive in Orlando, and it was very good. Kadam liked my review so much that he had it blown up and hung it in the front window where is stayed for years. In 2008, I revisited the restaurant and in my followup review I asked that the poster-sized, decades-old reprint be removed from the window. Not because it was yellowed and faded but because it was no longer valid. The quality of the experience – food, service, atmosphere – had deteriorated so much that it was no longer valid.
I don’t know if Kadam still owned the restaurant at that point. And I didn’t ask him when he came over to my table at Guru to greet me. The pretense of pretending he didn’t know who I was, a vestige of restaurant reviewing past, had been dropped, and we reminisced about those early days. Then he left me and my companion to enjoy our food.
And enjoy it we did. It was like a return to the earlier Passage to India.
We started with the Guru Non Vegetarian Platter appetizer, which included sheek kabob, chicken tikka and shami kabob. The meats, well seasoned and tender, were served on a silver platter, unskewered, and tossed with grilled onions. A mint sauce was included for dipping.
My companion ordered the Lamb Korma. I still wince whenever this dish is ordered and the server asks, “How hot would you like it?” Korma is a creamy sauce and it should be prepared mild. There’s no need to ask about spicing. That aside, it was a very good korma, rich with notes of coriander and ginger, the lamb chunks hefty but tender.
I had the Chicken Saag Wala, a dish that indeed can be prepared to any degree of hotness. My request for medium-spicy resulted in a blend of spinach and onions that was plenty hot and enjoyable, especially spooned on the flubby basmati rice.
I was especially impressed with the Onion Naan that we ordered mainly because it had actual onions in it. Usually, such naans have only a small amount of the added ingredients, but this one had enough to qualify as a tart. And the bread was tender and chewy. (When Kadam came by at the end of the meal and I mentioned that I liked the naan, he invited me back to the kitchen to watch one being baked in the special tandoor oven.)
At the beginning of the meal, we nibbled on fresh pappadum served with mango and onion chutneys, both of which were surprisingly mild.
Despite the korma heat faux pas, our server was otherwise knowledgeable and able.
The restaurant is located in Clermont Hillside Terrace, a newish multilevel complex of businesses. Tables are set with white cloths and red napkins, which elevate the experience a bit. Walls are decorated with various types of Indiana – portraits, tapestries, landscapes.
And framed write-ups and glowing reviews. All of them well earned.
Guru is at 2400 S. U.S. Highway 27, Clermont. It is open for dinner Monday through Saturday. The phone number is 352-241-9884.