New York City, NY
I’d been hearing a lot lately about Dirt Candy, the tiny vegetarian restaurant in the East Village that opened last year. First of all the name is brilliant and even if one is adverse to vegetables (or vegetarians), the creativity level that went into the naming makes one want to try the restaurant at least once. What could be better than vegetables taken from the earth and cooked to sweet perfection?
Dirt Candy with Chef Amanda Cohen at the stove and even doing double duty as a server in this small but impressive basement restaurant manages to make the most of her vegetable-centric menu in a refreshingly original way. Although the menu is limited (four entrees, four appetizers, four desserts) and prices a tad high for the portion size, the food is beautifully presented and artfully cooked.
For starters I had the kimchi donuts with watermelon radishes with a sprinkling of cilantro-flavored pesto and some arugula. My dinner guests had a portobello mousse that was molded into a perfect square shape and plated with a fennel and pear compote. For entrees, three of us had the homemade eggplant pasta with sautéed eggplant in a basil broth. While the pasta was delicious, I found the sauce (albeit billed as a broth) to be a bit watery. One of my guests tried the crispy tofu with broccolini. She thought it was delicious. I was tickled that it looked like a perfectly cooked piece of halibut.
Of the four desserts on the menu, we ordered three of them: Chef Cohen’s signature red pepper velvet cake (it was oddly spicy but so be it), ricotta fritters that were smaller and moister and better tasting than your regular run-of-the-mill Italian street fair version, and a homemade ice cream bar. Since Chef Cohen brought this dish to our table herself, I can only assume it’s her favorite dessert given the fact that she was literally jumping up and down with excitement that we had ordered it. Unfortunately, despite her enthusiasm, the ice cream bar was so achingly cold to try and eat that other than the taste of chocolate, I couldn’t identify the other ingredients (although I’m sure there was a veggie or two hidden in the dish).
Don’t have the limited menu fool you. The evening was extremely entertaining because the food was just so incredibly different. Dirt Candy also has an short but eclectic wine list with quite a few Austrian varietals not frequently seen on this side of the Atlantic. Be forewarned however regarding their reservation policy. The restaurant is very small and if you are more than 10 minutes late, you will lose your table.