Ever since Clay Oven closed its doors in the summer of 2007, Longwood has experienced a bit of a vacuum in restaurants specializing in traditional Indian cuisine. Udipi Café, a South Indian vegetarian restaurant, took over Clay Oven’s space, but meat-eaters had few to no options. So Narendra Kapoor – no stranger to the restaurant biz, having worked in kitchens in Mumbai, Belize, New York and Toronto – and his wife moved in to the fill the void. And though their Hindu faith precludes the use of beef in any of the dishes, the extensive menu has plenty of chicken, lamb, goat and seafood items to keep carnivores satisfied.
Gateway to India’s exterior still screams Pizza Hut, but once inside, the heady scent of incense mixed with the fragrant spice of grilled meats erases any notions of personal pan pizzas. Embroidered red banquettes dominate the perfectly square, brightly lit space, while framed Indian art and valances do their part to mask those characteristic brick walls. Unfortunately, a mixture of minced lamb and turkey couldn’t mask the uncharacteristically insipid essence of the seekh kebab ($9.95). It may have been the marinade or the incompatibility of the meats, but this is one starter worth passing up. The assorted platter ($7.95) was a hit-and-miss affair of various fried vegetarian snacks, with the batata vada (spicy deep-fried potato balls) and the aloo tiki (potato and pea patties jacked with chili peppers and coriander) the best of the lot. The rest of the offerings – hard-shelled samosas, cauliflower fritters and spinach and onion pakoras – were just too dry to enjoy.
Entree selection can take some deliberation, given the sheer number of mains offered, but even as warning bells sounded in my head, I ultimately decided on the ironically misspelled chicken chilly ($13.95). Diced Thai peppers and onions flavor the gelatinous sauce with morsels of chicken breast; the Indian-style Chinese dish is blisteringly hot and certainly not for diners with pusillanimous palates. If you enjoy a meal that makes your nose run and your head sweat, look no further. The dish comes with a side of black-lentil curry, which begs for a bread dip – get the bread basket ($8.95) and choose from unleavened wonders like fried poori, tandoori roti and aloo naan stuffed with seasoned potatoes. (The latter keeps well for nibbling the following day.)
An assortment of meats in the tandoori mixed grill ($19.95) – chicken, lamb, shrimp and salmon – is served sizzling on a hot plate and dressed with onions and green peppers. Apart from wondrously moist and garlicky chicken tikka and deeply marinated tandoori chicken, none of the other meats impressed me. Cubes of lamb boti kebab were dry and chewy; the shrimp was hard; and the salmon fillet, though flaky, had a bitter aftertaste.
Kapoor developed the menu, but leaves the cooking to others while he serves as host and waiter. His post-meal recommendation of Indian coffee ($2.95) was spot-on, even though it wasn’t served in a traditional stainless steel tumbler. The syrup of the gulab jamun ($3.95) was lukewarm, and the fried milk and cheese balls disintegrated too easily, but silken ras malai ($3.95), cottage cheese patties soaked in sweetened milk with a rose essence, fared much better.
Gateway has potential, but needs to close the door on its unwieldy menu. A focus on the dishes they do best will undoubtedly elevate the quality and usher in more hits than misses.