'Veg Out' at the New Walnut Grille in Newton Highlands
Chef Shiva Kumar and Chef/Owner Kannan Kesav tell Newton Patch why everyone- even meat-lovers- will love the fare at their new vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Newton Highlands.
If you have driven by the new Walnut Grille in Newton Highlands, you may have noticed their sign that touts the restaurant as being a “vegetarian and vegan experience.” And you may have asked yourself, “What exactly is a ‘vegetarian and vegan experience?’”
According to Chef Shiva Kumar, one of five friends involved in the new venture, the answer is actually pretty simple.
“So many vegetarian restaurants, restaurants in general, are just that --restaurants,” Kumar explains. “We wanted to attract people with more. When they come, they get the full experience- the food, the atmosphere, the music. The whole thing.”
Kumar got his culinary training in his native India and has worked at restaurants across the US. Most recently, he worked for the Taj Hotel group in their kitchens.
Kannan Kesav is both a chef and owner of the Walnut Grille. Like Kumar, he has a good bit of experience in hotel kitchens, including working with the Hyatt and Hilton groups.
But both chefs, along with their partners Kaarthy Madhan, Michael Stern and Ashwin Parthasarathy, always knew that they wanted to own and operate a restaurant that would cater to vegetarian and vegan diners without the usual sacrifices of variety and/or flavor profile that they had seen in other such ventures.
Newton Highlands seemed a natural place for the longtime friends to finally realize their dream, after spending over a year researching locations. The new restaurant opened on February 28, replacing the former Christina's European Cafe Bistro.
“We wanted a good family feel, a good healthy place,” Kesav says. “It’s easy to get here from Boston, right off Route 9 and 95 is close by too. And there is free parking here (in the adjacent lot), and they have the T right nearby. It’s an easy commute no matter what.”
But will diners of all types – vegetarian, vegan, and omnivorous – come from near and far to gain the experience that Kumar, Kesav and their partners want to provide?
Kumar certainly thinks so.
“The food, the flavors, the textures – they are not just for vegetarian and vegan people,” explains Kumar. “It will definitely fulfill even the really hardcore meat-eaters. Once they come here and try our food, they will say ‘Oh, this is better than meat!’ They will come back because they love the food.”
There is no question that the offerings at Walnut Grille are extensive–and growing.
Currently serving lunch and dinner, they will begin opening for brunch this weekend, March 9-10. Wine and beer options, including organic wines and gluten-free beers, have recently been added and soon cocktails will join the beverage list.
Kumar also plans to add daily specials in the near future: sandwiches, burgers, or wraps at lunch and one or two entrée and appetizer specials at dinner.
But the menu certainly offers a plethora of choices as it currently stands. At lunch, diners can select from numerous soups, salads and appetizers with which to begin their meal (or to make a meal of) then move onto a large number of sandwiches, wraps and burgers that encompass a number of different cultures.
Like the lunch menu, the dinner menus offerings are wide and varied. The sandwiches and wraps featured at lunch are replaced at dinner by a number of entrees and pizzas as varied as the cultures they represent. Both meals are rounded out by a selection of drinks, smoothies and dessert choices, and there are kids’ menus available for younger diners.
When asked about their signature dishes, Kumar and Kesav are in complete agreement. For appetizers, the Gobi Manchurian (chickpea flour-coated cauliflower in a sweet-and-spicy tomato sauce) and the Drums of Heaven (vegetable ‘pops’ with a Indo-Chinese sauce) are the standouts. Highlighted entrees include the Asian Tofu (hoisin marinated, grilled tofu with Asian slaw and quinoa-vegetable pilaf) and the Polenta Napoleon (pan-seared corn grits cake topped with pepperonata and fennel béarnaise sauce and served with a corn and black-eyed pea salsa).
And then there are the desserts and pastries.
You might think a restaurant that caters to vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diners might have to skimp on what is arguably the best part of any meal. But that is not the case at Walnut Grille. Their chocolate soufflé is already getting raves, and their equally celebrated carrot cake (along with many other dessert options) is available in both ‘regular’ and gluten-free variations.
Like all of their dishes, the sweet endings to the meals are made completely from scratch. Kumar and Kesav are keenly aware of the health concerns that trouble those living with Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Their kitchen uses separate equipment for their gluten-free preparation, and the staff makes cleaning between services a priority. In fact, all members of the staff are trained to avoid cross contamination and about food allergies. Kumar and Kesav are even certified in their knowledge of food allergens, so if a patron has a question about the food there is an informed response at the ready.
But it is the response of the customers that the chefs are most excited about.
“People will come in here, and they will try the food, and they are going to love it,” Kesav states, simply. “The flavors, the choices- they will just love everything about us.”
Walnut Grille is located at 1203 Walnut Street, in Newton Highlands. They can be reached at 617-964-1029 or 617-964-1030. Their website is still under construction, but their menus and more information can be found here on Newton Patch and on the Walnut Grille Facebook page.
Have you tried the new Walnut Grille? What did you think? Share your experience in the comments section below.