Eating Clean at the Black Walnut Cafe

Behaving at a Bistro

The Black Walnut Cafe is a Texas-based chain of casual bistros with numerous locations in Austin, Houston, and Dallas.  My wife, Ann, had been to the restaurant several times with her friends on girl’s night outs, and always raved about it. The Black Walnut is known for having a cozy atmosphere, a varied menu, and for their gelato, but would their menu be varied enough for a picky paleo palate?

Room with a view

The West University location is the most convenient for me, so we set out to give it a try. Right after walking in I felt very comfortable. The interior reminded me of little neighborhood bistros I ate in when I used to travel to Paris for business. The dark wood paneling,  mis-matched furniture, and  high-back leather seats contributed to the comfy atmosphere Ann told me about. There wasn’t a lot of seating, but luckily for us the weather was bad and there were able to get a seat relatively easily. At the Black Walnut, you order at the counter, and they bring the food out for you when it is ready. This is an approach I see more and more in higher-priced restaurants, but I’m not sure why they do it. Maybe it saves the restaurant money by not having to  having to retain as many waitstaff as the conventional method, but the more upscale restaurants I see doing this don’t seem to be  passing the savings on to their customers. At any rate, the counter staff was friendly and courteous and seemed to know the menu well when quizzed about the dishes.

Choices, choices, choices

The menu had many diverse options from lobster tacos, to burgers and stakes, to lots of interesting salads, to Asian-inspired dishes. A lot of times when I see such a wide array of options, I assume they can’t be good at all of them, so it was difficult for me to settle on one dish. Luckily my wife had been there before and she recommended the Asian BBQ Salmon. I also strongly considered the steak, but I’ve done other reviews on steak, so I went for the the salmon. Oh, the sacrifices I make for my readers.  Ann opted for the Asian Tuna Salad, which sounded good also, but I eat a lot of salads at home, and when I go out, I like to treat myself a bit. My boy ordered the cheese burger—he’s not as big on variety as his old man.  The drink menu was loaded with options also. It listed several specialty cocktails and had a nice selection of wines. I kept it pretty boring and ordered the house cabernet. you pay at the counter by the gelato freezer (a very smart marketing move, Black Walnut.) I knew there was no way we were leaving there with out gelato for my… uh kid.

Gluten-free meals at the Black Walnut Cafe
Asian BBQ Salmon at the Black Walnut Cafe

Super salmon

I didn’t feel like I was having to swim up stream to stay paleo at the Black Walnut. The  salmon was cooked rare like I ordered and rested on a bed of steamed sweet bell peppers, broccoli, snow peas, red onions, and scallions. In most restaurants I have to customize my order to make it more paleo friendly. You know the drill, hold the rice, substitute veggies for the potatoes, etc. Not necessary at the Black Walnut. I was a bit worried about the honey bbq sauce being too sweet, but they didn’t over do it. There was only a thin glaze on the top of the salmon, and it was not overly sweet. It just had a hint of honey to accentuate the smokiness of the grilled salmon.  It was very good.

Black Walnut Asian Tuna Salad
Black Walnut Asian Tuna Salad

Tuna worth trading for

Ann and I traded bites of our meals. Her Asian Tuna Salad was really good also. It featured seared rare ahi tuna, with black sesame seeds on a bed of green, red and Napa cabbage, carrots, mint, cilantro, snow peas, bean sprouts, peanuts with a wasabi aioli, spicy Asian dressing. Truth be told, I think I was out ordered. Her meal was very refreshing. The tuna was high quality sushi grade, and it contrasted nicely with the crispy cabbage. I would definitely consider it next time, especially as it gets hotter this summer.

Gelato Gestapo?

Remember my prediction about my kid trying to talk me into some gelato… well, that started about two-thirds of the way through his burger. He ordered a small with coconut and pistachio.  Definitely not paleo-friendly in any way, shape or form. Luckily for me, I subscribe to Chris Kresser’s 80/20 rule that basically states as long as you stay on the straight and narrow 80% of the time you can splurge 20% of the time, but really make it count so that it is satisfying. Gelato and ice cream are certainly worthy of cheating for me. So I stole some of my kid’s gelato. It was totally worth it too. The Black Walnut’s gelato was creamy and sweet, just like it is supposed to be. My kid kept me from eating too much of the frozen awesomeness because  he is a way faster eater than me, so I only got a few decadent bites. That’s my trick for this week. Share desert with your kids. They won’t let you eat overeat.

The Verdict

The Black Walnut is definitely worth a try, and I’ll certainly be back. The food is great. The atmosphere is comfortable, and it is easy to stay paleo, except for that damn gelato. I wish you better luck staying away from it than I had.






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