Why: May will mark the first anniversary of Guru Sweets in Vancouver. Guru was started by the Singh family, who saw a need for an authentic Indian sweet shop dedicated to providing high-quality sweets and snacks made with only the finest ingredients which embody the essence of Indian flavors and purity of its culture. Preparation is 100 percent vegetarian, and menu items are free of MSG and preservatives. If you stop by with an appetite, you may also dine in and try the daily meal, comprised of five flavorful items.
What I tried: I tried the daily meal which consists of two roti, one sabzi, one dal, yogurt, and salad. Roti is Indian flatbread, which accompanies the meal and is often used for mopping up every last bit of curries that escape utensils. I found the freshly made flatbread delicious in every regard, and the texture wasn’t too spongy or dry. Sabzi is a vegetable dish, which was spinach on the day of my visit. It was cooked down to a creamy form; but unlike typical cooked spinach, it was not overly stringy or chewy. I thought it was very appetizing and similar to the dal, it possessed a fair amount of spicy heat, which I found was tamed by mixing it with some of the yogurt. Dal is one of the principal foods of Indian cuisine; I think of it much like a comfort food. It is made mostly of lentils combined with garlic and onions. I noted some beans mixed in, as well. It had a tasty, spicy presence, and it reminded me of chili. Instead of a salad, a single stick of carrot was included. It had a spice-speckled, oily coating on it and was quite intriguing to look at — considering that this one stick of carrot was to take the place of a salad. I saved it for last and was not disappointed. It was extremely flavorful, somewhat pickled, and spicy. Its character was of a condensed version of a larger portion. I also tried a samosa, which was made with a flaky crust filled with a mixture of potatoes, onions, peas, and carrots and fried to a golden crisp. It is served with a chutney, which was somewhat tangy and sweet and had a very thin consistency that allowed the pastry to easily soak it up for added flavor.
I selected a few of the sweets from the bakery case to take home and try. Among them were a milkcake, a dhoda, a khoa barfi, an alsi pini, a coconut ladoo, and a fruit roll. Most had a similar texture and base flavor (other than the alsi pini and the coconut ladoo) because of the condensed milk used to make them, but they varied slightly from there, with the fruit roll standing out the most due to the candied fruit in the center. The coconut ladoo, which is basically a ball of grated coconut and sweetened condensed milk, and the alsi pini were more crumbly.
Menu highlights beyond what I tried: Among the traditional drinks are a sweet and a salty lassi (made with a yogurt base), and chai. The frozen dessert, kulfi, is on the menu. Snacks include a choley sandwich and a few varieties of chaat, a savory snack. The large selection of sweets include gulab jamuns and barfis.
Atmosphere: The stand-alone establishment situated on Mill Plain looks similar to a house. A wood deck creates a pathway to the entrance at the front. A refrigerated bakery case and bottled drink case are separated by the ordering counter in front of the menu wall. Shelves of packaged snacks are available for browsing at one side of the room and tables and chairs for dining are positioned along the perimeter of the space. Walls are painted in a light caramel color and lighting consists of basic ceiling cans and florescent strips.
Other observations: I visited on a cold, rainy evening for dinner and found the temperature too cold for comfortable dining even with a jacket on. I did, however, enjoy the daily meal, and a return visit during warmer weather is in order. The service was very friendly and prices were similar to other bakeries. The sweets are packaged in attractive red boxes which allude to something special inside.
Cost: Sweets range from $2.99 to $9.99 per pound. Snacks start at 75 cents and top out at $8.99. Specialty drinks cost $1.99 to $2.99. The daily meal is $6.99.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Where: 12106 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver.
Contact: 360-326-8573 or www.gurusweet.com
Health score: Guru Sweets received a score of zero on June 12. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants with a score of 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-2000.