Inspired by her global culinary travels, executive chef Paramita Roy has unveiled Kanishka's, a Walnut Creek "neo-Indian" gastropub that fuses traditional small plates with the Bengali street food flavors of Roy's native Kolkata.
When I heard the concept, it immediately excited me. I love Indian flavors but am always reluctant to hit even the most popular buffets. A little goes a long way for me: If I can't go to San Francisco's Dosa or Oakland's Juhu Beach Club, I'm happier cooking my version of Indian at home, with a turmeric to enliven my spaghetti meat sauce, or fresh fish rubbed in tandoori spices.
Roy's fresh catch of the day ($14) was just such a neo-Indian dish and, to me, one of her best. When we visited, they were featuring mahi-mahi, grilled with the chef's signature spicy tandoori rub and finished with a tropical pineapple salsa. It was simple and balanced. As Kanishka's grows, I'm not sure some of the more complicated dishes on the menu will last, or if diners will "get" them.
But for a restaurant in its infancy, the front of the house was surprisingly in tune with the kitchen. Our server was friendly and relaxed despite the crowds and noise -- Kanishka's is the loudest restaurant I've been to in recent memory -- and delivered most of our dishes promptly. The space definitely feels like a pub: Metal mixed with wood and brick is nicely balanced with bright, almost neon-colored portraits on the walls.
The shikampuri or "belly full" lamb sliders ($10), for instance, arrived hot and were totally delicious. Instead of regular slider buns, you have the option of having your grilled, mint-laced Superior Farms lamb, roasted chickpeas and coriander-mint chutney wrapped in a warm, flaky East Indian style flatbread. It was another home run. (You can get the yummy bread as an appetizer with dipping curry and five-spice, tricolor baby potatoes for $7.)
In fact, most of the snacky small plates, like Kennebac Masala Fries ($5) and Papas Bravas Reinvented ($6) with paprika and tomato fenugreek cream, were just as good as they sound.
I got my hopes up for bhel puri, a savory Indian snack or chaat made from puffed rice, veggies and tangy tamarind sauce, but Kanishka's version disappointed me. While I appreciated that Roy was trying to recreate the liquid-filled chip version (known as puchka) native to Kolkata, the puffed rice was much too soggy, and the accompanying tamarind cilantro shooter was too acerbic -- and fussy.
Next time I might get my vegetarian fix from one of six enchanting choices on the menu, which includes Garbanzo Masala Sliders ($8) and Eggplant-Tini ($7), turmeric-and-paprika fried eggplant with chilled yogurt sauce. We didn't have a chance to try those because everyone at the table wanted meat or chicken, and, ahem, a few orders of lamb sliders. We also really liked the Chicken Korma Poutin ($12), slow-cooked, hormone-free chicken in a bubbling cardamom tomato almond yogurt sauce with paprika Kennebec fries. In this case, soggy was a good thing.
We ended our meal with a palate-cleansing, though tiny, scoop of watermelon sorbet, billed on the menu as seasonal. It was free during the restaurant's grand opening, but we're hoping diners who pay the $7 menu price get a larger scoop -- or, at the least, a fruit that is actually in season.
Reach Jessica Yadegaran at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHERE: 1518 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek
CONTACT: 925-464-7468; kanishkasgastropub.com
HOURS: Open 5-10 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays
CUISINE: Neo-Indian gastropub
VEGETARIAN: Try the Garbanzo Masala Sliders, Potato Paneer Sliders or Paneer Sloppy Joes.
BEVERAGES: A small wine and beer program with no Northern California breweries on tap (though North Coast Brewing is available by the bottle)
NOISE LEVEL: Loud
PARKING: Street parking
KIDS: Try the deconstructed East Indian flatbread and Kennebec masala fries.
PLUSES: Classic Indian dishes get often-inventive makeovers.
MINUSES: Not all makeovers work -- or are necessary.
DATE OPENED: February
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