Kanishka’s Gastropub, Walnut Creek CA
For the folks who profess their love of all cuisines, Kanishka’s Neo-Indian Gastropub would be a real treat. Not everyone likes Indian food, but this is not entirely typical Indian food. The owner/chef is heavily inspired by her grandfather’s Bengali recipes with a few servings of her travels through all hemispheres. Her menu is filled with ingredients that combine flavors from all lands where she’s stepped foot, bridging India to all of them like a global network of small plates. Dining here is an experience to take your taste buds on a trip around the world through the perspective of one cuisine in one sitting.
We began our dinner with the Brussel sprouts, flash-fried and seasoned with “Chef’Spices” and served with lemon curry aioli. Blanching before frying helped cook the bitterness out, allowing so many other flavors to shine. They were seasoned with a mild curry and cumin spice blend, and while the outer leafs gained so much of the savory flavor, towards the center the sprouts retained an al dente texture with natural vegetable flavor. It was a fine balance of fresh and savory, crunch and cooked. A creamy aioli with light lemon flavor and a bit of curry was vital, not just a hastily added condiment; the sprouts, while tasty, were better with it.
The Street Side Duets was really more of a three-in-one small plate with typical Indian street snacks, or chaat, a term referring to savory snacks sold from stalls or carts. The five pastry-looking puchkas are also known as pani-puri, consisting of a hollowed pastry fried and then filled. These were much like the standard found throughout India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. The pastry cups were so surprisingly thin, yet sturdy enough to contain the semi-smooth potato and chickpea filling with mild curries and the heat of a chili pepper. The sweet tamarind glaze helped balance the heat, but it was far from the hottest item on the plate. From the silver bowl we enjoyed bhel puri, kind of like an Indian Chex Mix made with puffed rice, a few peanuts, a small amount of fresh cucumber, and a tamarind sauce. It was spiced, but not spicy. Zach didn’t like it at first bite, but the second and third and so forth kept getting tastier, like a consuming addiction (part of the comparison to Chex Mix). To appreciate it more, we would recommend eating it slowly because it is an experience for the mouth to feel in contrast to what the eye sees. Despite looking like having a cracker texture, it was almost salad-like with a mix of crispy and chewy. The tamarind cilantro shooter itself was not so bad, but the shot glass was rimmed with a tamarind chili pepper dust and that was a real kick to the tongue. It can be used as a sauce to drizzle over the plate with the puchkas, but we took it down like resilient older Indian women tend to do, according to our server Lindsay. The small plate was nowhere near lacking flavor.
The papas bravas were strikingly similar to what August has tasted in Spain, but decidedly different here at Kanishka’s. Large-diced potatoes were tossed with Indian spices as well paprika, served in a pool of tomato fenugreek cream sauce that tasted essentially like a curry ketchup. The same lemon curry aioli as the Brussel sprouts proved to be just as integral here as it was for the sprouts, adding a layer of flavor that made this memorable.
Just have to say, what came out to us what not what we expected when we ordered “warm seafood salad (fresh catch & shrimp), zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, avocado, butter lettuce, devilish egg, Chef’s tangy dressing” but that’s okay because it was still tasty. The eye tells us so much about what we eat, but we become so accustomed to certain standards of plating that “seafood salad” would probably not be dreamed of like this by too many people at all. The fresh catch was mahi mahi, and three large bites of it plus three shrimp sat in the hollowed-out half of an avocado skin. The fish was lightly seasoned; sometimes simplicity is delicious when the ingredient can stand alone in its purity. The shrimp had a little extra flavor to it, a touch spiced but not overwhelmingly. The squash and carrot salad had a latent heat from the tangy tamarind dressing, so August was thankful for the avocado half to keep her tongue cooled from this and the other spicy components of the dinner.
The tandoori-tini was creative in its plating, that’s certain. Made with tandoori BBQ chicken thigh meat, the same paprika potatoes as the papas bravas, spicy pico de gallo, and Indian spices, it was the type of dish a small eater would fill up on easily. The spoonful of classic Mexican guacamole was not listed on the menu, unless that’s the pico de gallo, as it did have lots of fresh tomatoes and onions. A garnish of pickled onion offered a bit of tanginess to break up the hearty “meat and potatoes” vibe this gives off. But, we didn’t realize that this was going to be almost identical to the papas bravas so we recommend that you choose one over the other.
To our delight, as we are lovers of this not-too-popular meat, there were more than one lamb dish on the menu. We went for the sliders as the lamb was from local Superior Farms of Dixon; lamb is tasty (barring mutton), but the closer to home is better and this dish was another tally in the column of evidence. Patrons can choose between Indian flatbread and eggless bread but the owner recommended the wrap style with flatbread so of course we took her suggestion. With arugula, chutney, aioli, and onion straws, the crunchy wrap with a tortilla-like texture enveloped the crispy onion straws and fresh greens, creating excellent layers of texture. Simple flavors and few ingredients make for a great dish.
With such a menu to take a culinary trip around the world, it would be foolish not to return. Being that the restaurant is still young, there is room for adjustments to be made. We did try an additional dish not featured here, because we learned that it will be axed soon so we would hate to lure you here under false pretenses. The menu, though, is nearly a piece of art for all its details and subtle references. There are main categories for the different types of small plates (vegetarian, seafood, land-based meat, etc), each with a corresponding song title that ties in to the theme in some puzzlingly metaphorical way. For each item there are thoughtful beer and wine pairing suggestions, but like our honest server Lindsay pointed out, most people that order more than one item wouldn’t necessarily care to have a dedicated drink for each. It is nice to have the options; if August still worked in downtown Walnut Creek like she did for a year after college, she would make this her lunch break stop on the regular, a plate a day with a little something to sip it down. If you were to take just one of our recommendations, though, let it be this: make a reservation, but be prepared that you still might wait for your table anyway. Kanishka’s is the cool kid at school and everyone wants to hang out with her.