Riverfront Times April 9, 2015 : Page 33

cafe AWARD-WINNING BBQ BBQ $ PITCHER OF BEER AND 1 LB OF WINGS EVERY THURSDAY 3707 KINGSHIGHWAY ST. LOUIS, MO 63109 314 832-9009 WWW.SOUTHTOWNPUB.NET 10 Nuts WALNUT GRILL CONFUSES WITH OVER-THE-TOP MENU Walnut Grill 1386 Clarkson-Clayton Shopping Center, Ellisville; 636-220-1717. Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m; Sun. 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Above: “Thai Pork Mac n Cheese.” Left: The New York strip steak is topped with mushrooms, onions and gorgonzola-bacon butter. L et us, briefl y, consider the description of Walnut Grill’s “Thai Pork Mac n Cheese”: “pulled pork, four cheese alfredo, asparagus relish, smoked gouda, sweet chili sauce.” Huh? It was hard for me to say whether I felt hungry or horrifi ed. This confusion re-turned more than once as I paged through Walnut Grill’s gargantuan, wide-ranging menu. The BY owner of the Pittsburgh-CHER YL based boutique chain once described his restaurant’s B AEHR philosophy this way: “You’ve got a carload of four people that want to go out to dinner; there’s some-thing on our menu that will probably appeal to everyone in that car.” The result, however, is a restaurant without an identity where the kitchen succeeds about as often as it fails. It’s a shotgun approach to cooking — spray the area, and you’re bound to hit something eventually. Occupying the former Chevy’s space on the corner of Clarkson and Clayton, Walnut Grill has an enormous lounge area, fi lled with high-top tables, modern-print booths and a bar that could comfortably seat an army. The dining side is a nondescript mix of tables and ALL PHOTOS B Y MABEL SUEN banquettes that could have been lifted from an addition to its already humongous menu, I offi ce building. One nice touch is the artwork received a list of chef’s specials that included — Walnut Grill’s walls are lined with works a mushroom-bruschetta appetizer. Griddled from local art students, and interested buyers bread spread with creamy goat cheese served as a decadent base for the sautéed mushrooms. can purchase them from the restaurant. Walnut Grill’s table-of-contents-worthy This tasty snack is worthy of a permanent spot on the menu. menu begins with a full page I eyed the “Chicken n’ of appetizers, many of which Fries” flatbread with the were enjoyable. The “Sweet Walnut Grill same skepticism as the pork Chili Boneless Wings” were “Zucchini mac & cheese, but was pleas-crisp, coated in a sticky-sweet Planks” ................$9.50 “Chicken n’ Fries”..... $13 antly surprised. Sweet and glaze, and reminded me of “WG’s Crab Cakes” ... $25 tangy barbecue sauce served hot-braised chicken. The ac-as a base for grilled chicken, companying blue-cheese dip-chunks of candied bacon, ping sauce — while deliciously chunky — was unnecessary. The “Zucchini cheddar, mozzarella and provolone cheeses. Planks” were equally satisfying. The thin strips I thought the french fries sprinkled on top of squash were battered, fried and sprinkled would be gimmicky, but they worked surpris-with grated Parmesan cheese. A side of subtly ingly well, providing a salty crunch to this fun sweet marinara was an ideal complement. In little dish. continued on page 34 riverfronttimes.com APRIL 9-15, 2 015 RIVERFR ONT TIMES 33

Cafe

Cheryl Baehr

Nuts

WALNUT GRILL CONFUSES WITH OVERTHE- TOP MENU

Walnut Grill 1386 Clarkson-Clayton Shopping Center, Ellisville; 636-220-1717. Mon.-Thurs. 11 a. m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m; Sun. 10a. m.-9 p.m.

Let us, briefly, consider the description of Walnut Grill’s “Thai Pork Mac n Cheese”: “pulled pork, four cheese alfredo, asparagus relish, smoked gouda, sweet chili sauce.”

Huh? It was hard for me to say whether I felt hungry or horrified. This confusion returned more than once as I paged through Walnut Grill’s gargantuan, wide-ranging menu. The owner of the Pittsburghbased boutique chain once described his restaurant’s philosophy this way: “You’ve got a carload of four people that want to go out to dinner; there’s something on our menu that will probably appeal to everyone in that car.”

The result, however, is a restaurant without an identity where the kitchen succeeds about as often as it fails. It’s a shotgun approach to cooking — spray the area, and you’re bound to hit something eventually.

Occupying the former Chevy’s space on the corner of Clarkson and Clayton, Walnut Grill has an enormous lounge area, filled with high-top tables, modern-print booths and a bar that could comfortably seat an army. The dining side is a nondescript mix of tables and banquettes that could have been lifted from an office building. One nice touch is the artwork — Walnut Grill’s walls are lined with works from local art students, and interested buyers can purchase them from the restaurant.

Walnut Grill’s table-of-contents-worthy menu begins with a full page of appetizers, many of which were enjoyable. The “Sweet Chili Boneless Wings” were crisp, coated in a sticky-sweet glaze, and reminded me of hot-braised chicken. The accompanying blue-cheese dipping sauce — while deliciously chunky — was unnecessary. The “Zucchini Planks” were equally satisfying. The thin strips of squash were battered, fried and sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese. A side of subtly sweet marinara was an ideal complement. In addition to its already humongous menu, I received a list of chef’s specials that included a mushroom-bruschetta appetizer. Griddled bread spread with creamy goat cheese served as a decadent base for the sautéed mushrooms.This tasty snack is worthy of a permanent spot on the menu.

I eyed the “Chicken n’ Fries” flatbread with the same skepticism as the pork mac & cheese, but was pleasantly surprised. Sweet and tangy barbecue sauce served as a base for grilled chicken, chunks of candied bacon, cheddar, mozzarella and provolone cheeses.I thought the french fries sprinkled on top would be gimmicky, but they worked surprisingly well, providing a salty crunch to this fun little dish.

Things began falling apart with the lackluster chicken and Brie quesadilla, which needed additional sweetness to cut through the rich cheese. The scant drizzle of raspberry sauce proved insufficient. I’m not sure why the dish was served with sour cream and salsa. The former offered nothing extra. The latter clashed.

Walnut Grill’s turkey club would have been better without the dry turkey meat. The star of the dish was the candied bacon — a pleasant mix of sweet and salty that paired well with the honey aioli and cranberry relish. The greens, tomato, pepper jack and provolone cheese, however, seemed thrown on.

The Parmesan-crusted chicken, served over a wonderfully soft gnocchi, is some of the bestcooked poultry I have had in recent memory.This dish would have been a real standout had it not been drowned in a mix of tomato-basil cream sauce and cold, diced tomatoes. The effect of the mismatched temperatures was off-putting. I appreciated its flavor, however, compared to the wild mushroom chicken — this cream sauce badly needed seasoning.

The biggest failure was the “Salmon Balsamico,” an overcooked, dry piece of fish served with a balsamic sauce so over-reduced it tasted burnt.

Walnut Grill’s crab cakes were possibly the simplest thing on the menu and, because of that, by far and away the best. The restaurant uses little filler — just a generous portion of jumbo lump meat, a little onion and a very few breadcrumbs for binding. Creamy dijonnaise sauce brightened the plate.

Things quickly went back to overwrought once we came to dessert. I was underwhelmed by the “Caramelized Walnut Ball” dessert. I anticipated a fried, walnut-coated ball of ice cream, but instead received a rock of vanilla coated in pulverized walnuts and topped with chocolate and caramel sauces. (I guess that’s what they meant by “caramelized”?) It was a first — I’ve never had to eat ice cream with a knife and fork before.

For a nightcap, I tried the “Smoked Old Fashion” — Walnut Grill smokes the liquor over wood chips. It’s aggressive on the nose but surprisingly subdued on the palate. Maple syrup eliminated the bite. Purists may scoff, but it was pleasantly quaffable.

Here’s the thing — the “Thai Pork Mac n Cheese” turned out to be pretty good. Would I have preferred the pork served as a simple sandwich? Absolutely. Walnut Grill may have the capability to please everyone, but it fares best when it leaves the kitchen sink where it is.

For more about food and St. Louis restaurants, visit Gut Check: blogs.riverfronttimes.com/gutcheck.

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