When I first heard about Dirt Candy, a new vegetarian restaurant in the East Village, I was skeptical. But then I read an article over at the Feedbag in which Amanda Cohen, chef and proprietor at Dirt Candy, mentioned that she, like me, does not like most vegetarian restaurants in NYC. I read the menu online, and it looked like they were trying to do something I’ve been craving for a long time. Most vegetarian restaurants go too far in the opposite direction of fine dining establishments. I’ve eaten great vegetarian meals at
some very fancy restaurants, and I always thought it would be a great idea to take a bunch of those types of dishes and make a menu out of them. That’s exactly what Dirt Candy has done, and based on the one meal I had there they are knocking it out of the park.
We strolled in a little after six on a Saturday night without reservations, and we were almost turned away because they were completely booked for the evening. They seated us as long as we promised to be out by 7:45 and throughout the meal we saw several potential diners turned away because they didn’t have reservations. Advance word must have been really good. Luckily for all of us, it’s completely justified.
First we were given a basket of deliciously chewy bread with olive oil. We started with an order of the jalapeno hush puppies, served with maple butter. The hush puppies were warm and amazingly light, with just a touch of spiciness. The slightly sweet maple butter melted beautifully on them and the sweetness of the maple really complemented the heat of the jalapenos.
Then I got what sounded like the most unusual dish on the menu — stone ground grits with pickled shitake mushrooms and a tempura poached egg. Yes, the egg was crunchy fried on the outside and wonderfully runny and creamy on the inside. The coarsely ground grits were rich and spiked with piquant bits of the pickled shitakes. Together it was an amazing dish. My dining companion got the carrot risotto, which was a bright orange and was circled by what looked like carrot slices but which were actually carrot dumplings. We both cleaned our plates.
We couldn’t resist dessert, though we had to share one. Like the main menu, the dessert all sounded imaginative and playful. We went for the second of the “cake and ice cream” combos — chocolate cake with a scoop of sweet potato ice cream, a spicy chocolate ice cream, and a salty potato chip. The cake was the only disappointment of the evening; slightly dry and uninspired. Luckily it was offset by the insanely rich spicy chocolate ice cream, and the unusual but delicious sweet potato ice cream. Eaten together in one bite with a bit of the cake and a bit of the potato chip it gives you the perfect balance of savory and sweet.
I’ll definitely be returning to Dirt Candy; all of the dishes on the menu sound interesting and ambitious. Next time I’ll bring my camera, and I’ll be sure to make a reservation — I don’t want to risk being turned away.
Dirt Candy — 430 E 9th St