Located on the Lower East Side, Dirt Candy is one of the most creative and delicious dinners we’ve had in a really long time. Here’s the kicker though; it’s an entirely vegetarian restaurant. And, let’s face it, it’s not easy to make vegetables memorable. The place itself is small and cozy with about ten tiny, candlelit tables and a tiny 4-5 person kitchen in the back. Small size and amazing food means that you have to get there early or try to make a reservation because they fill up fast. Let’s get into exactly why.
Chef Amanda Cohen has created an all vegetable-based menu that will make you feel like you’ve eaten mushrooms (literally), except that they aren’t those kind of mushrooms. They’re better (and easier to eat in public). You order the menu items by vegetable; mushroom, cucumber, tomato, broccoli etc. After deciding on your vegetable, you get a dish that uses that vegetable as the main focus. Choosing parsnips, for example, get’s you parsnip “pillows”, a type of parsnip gnocchi. Choosing broccoli would get you two broccoli dogs, a play on hotdogs. You get the idea.
Now, for my fellow meat eaters out there that are weary about this concept, don’t be. It IS a vegetarian restaurant, however, it’s one of the first ones we’ve been to where we didn’t miss the meat. It’s no joke. We love that they don’t use pre-existing meat dish concepts and try to make them vegetarian. Instead Chef Amanda Cohen uses the best, seasonal vegetables and allows them to have their own destinies. It’s like a special veggie-land, where veggies can grow up to be whatever they want to be.
Let’s talk menu. You can (and absolutely should) start your meal off with the jalapeño hush puppies with maple butter. They were airy, spicy, sweet, and the perfect start to any meal. On this menu, that’s not even considered an appetizer, by the way, that’s considered a “snack”. After your “snack”, you have to move onto an appetizer. We went with mushroom and tomato. The mushroom appetizer was a portobello mousse with truffled toast and a pear and fennel compote. It was nothing to throw a tomato at. Speaking of which, when our tomato appetizer came out we almost fell out of our chairs. It was a tomato cake with smoked feta and a cherry tomato leather. Yes, leather, and it added a nice chewy texture to the bottom of the tomato cake. A truly gorgeous plate that had such thought and direction. It was fantastic.
Then on to the main courses, go parsnip and broccoli! The parsnip dish was those parsnip “pillows” I mentioned before, coupled with a watermelon radish, tarragon and parsnip biscuit. Those parsnip pillows were so delicious I wanted to motorboat them. The broccoli dish was two broccoli dogs, broccoli kraut, and salt and vinegar broccoli rabe. It was like broccoli three ways and it was out of this world. Not only was the meal out of this world, but we were so inspired by the exquisite and creative use of vegetables in these preparations.
Not sure where they get the time, but Dirt Candy also has an awesome blog where you can read about all the inspiration behind the vegetable creations. You hardcore foodies will love it. We do.
Nice job, Chef Cohen. We can’t wait to come back.