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Taste, Sip, Transcend

Kanishka’s innovative Indian cuisine has hit a higher level of deliciousness.


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Photography by Shannon McIntyre

Havana’s electric scene and powerful mojitos ushered contemporary Cuban cuisine into Contra Costa more than a decade ago. Now, on the same short Walnut Creek block, Kanishka’s Neo-Indian Gastropub has done the same for globally inspired Indian cuisine, matching craft beer to exotic spice in a space both modern and lively.

On my most recent visit, I slipped in on a night that happened to coincide with the debut of a local artist’s dramatic abstract paintings presented on Kanishka’s gray and royal blue walls. Patrons mingled, sampling complimentary Indian bruschetta artfully arranged on the three-sided stainless steel bar.

The scene was a visual feast to complement my first course: fragrant shikampuri sliders wrapped in flaky griddled Malaysian flatbread. The rich wraps of ground lamb and roasted chickpeas—slathered with a creamy coriander-mint chutney—belong to the menu’s Welcome to the Jungle category. You can also do some Dancing in the Streets (simple street food), or visit the Octopus’s Garden (spicy shrimp and fish).

Before the appearance of my next course (dishes are presented on black slate, whimsical white plates, and in steel martini glasses), radiant owner and executive chef Paramita Roy appeared, in a dazzling Indian kurta and matching orange-and-blue tennis shoes. Roy’s traditional-modern dress reflects her colorful journey from Calcutta to Walnut Creek.

Roy grew up in India with a gregarious grandfather who liked to entertain by matching scotch and beer with traditional Indian foods—an inspiration for Roy that informs her restaurant, as do her travels.   

Two decades ago, Roy immigrated to Los Angeles as a student, found success in high tech, lived for three years in Manhattan, and began culinary expeditions around the globe punctuated by two weeks of formal culinary training in Tuscany. It’s a background that has allowed her to create an Indian-fusion restaurant with dishes that are distinctive and full of flavor. She avoids the mishmash of flavors that undermines so many East-West menus.

The prawn-tini, for instance, is no ordinary shrimp cocktail. The prawns are fried in a delicate batter and coated with a creamy paste that first tastes sweet, becomes fiery hot, and concludes with a calming aroma of warm spice. Equally enticing are the New Orleans–inspired dishes, such as the curry and chile-flecked Asian shrimp po’ boy and the blackened tandoori mahimahi, the fish of the day on my visit.

To cool the menu’s heat, beer tender Nathan Alan Burns offers more than 20 bottles of Belgian and international craft brews (each dish comes with suggested pairings), as well as a rotating selection of eight exotic taps. Featured on my visit was the Dogfish Head Theobroma—scented with honey, chiles, and cacao—and The Bruery’s Autumn Maple brown ale—brewed with sweet yams and molasses.

Kanishka’s emphasis on beer creates a light atmosphere with a convivial spirit. At night, diners crowd the bar or wait for a seat, either at one of the small tables that hug the walls or the refurbished communal-style wood table near the glassy entrance.

It’s quieter at lunch (which began in October), but Roy’s dishes are no less assertive and satisfying. The garbanzo masala brings a spicy, warm ragout—nearly a stew—of creamy beans and veggies on crisped and chewy focaccia-style bread. The lively roasted eggplant flatbread and cashew salad comes spiked with strands of raw ginger, while a trio of fish tacos—their jalapeño tamed by avocado—has a refreshing citrusy finish.

These dishes are strong examples of how Roy’s menu has become more refined and scintillating since its soft opening in January, when I had my first of many visits.

In fact, if Roy’s cuisine continues on this trajectory, she may have to scratch the menu’s multiple subheads altogether and create one catch-all category: transcendent.

Contact: 1518 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, kanishkasgastropub.com. Lunch and dinner Mon.–Sat.

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