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Dirt Candy: Showing Earth’s Bounty Really is Sweet

Vegetarian food gets a bad rep in a city famous for steakhouses, but chef Amanda Cohen’s all-veggie joint in the East Village shows with skill and flair that meatless food can go to bat against ham-riddled pasta or steak & potatoes. Chef Cohen states that at Dirt Candy, “we don’t care about your health. and we don’t care about your politics either.” She wants to present vegetarian food the way a chef would, not the way someone more concerned with politics and lifestyle choices would. It’s been working – since opening, they’ve been named Best Vegetarian Restaurant in New York (by NYMag) and received the Bib Gourmand classification in the 2010 Michelin Guide.

Nestled just below street level a block off Tompkins Square Park, Dirt Candy is a shoe-box sized cross between cozy downtown date spot and Tokyo karoake bar. Only a neon orange mini-awning distinguishes it from a long line of restaurants on 9th between the park and St. Marks. Down a short flight and into the tiny dining room, you’re enveloped in a cheery orange and pink illuminated space with just 9 tables, an open kitchen the size of mine (read: itsy bitsy), and mellow light wood paneling. Two waitresses (one of which I discovered late in the meal was actually chef Cohen herself) hustle between the tables, taking orders, serving, and bussing themselves.

The menu is short but sweet, featuring four appetizers, four entrees, and four desserts – all starring ‘dirt candy’ or the sweet bounty of our earth. My veggie-friendly dining companion Diana and I tried the ‘potato’ and ‘pumpkin’ dishes to start and the ‘eggplant’ and ‘parsnip’ entrees. To cut to the chase, all four were extraordinary. The potato appetizer was a rich and creamy yukon gold potato soup poured over caviar-style tomato pearls and a sizeable dollop of creme fraiche – it was simultaneously hearty and refreshing. ‘Pumpkin’ consisted of a beautifully-arranged marinated pumpkin and squash salad with blue cheese crostini – it was packed with bold savory flavors and was texturally exciting to boot.

The ‘parsnip’ entree was a true wonder, featuring parsnip gnocchi, a cabbage slaw, and carrot cake crunch. I don’t care what was in this – it was the creamiest and richest gnocchi dish I have ever consumed with gorgeous plump gnocchi bits that melted in my mouth and crispy crunchy slaw on top. Just perfect! The eggplant dish was not my favorite as, to quote my friend Diana, “eggplant is really the most polarizing vegetable.” However, an eggplant lover herself, she immensely enjoyed her meal of black olive fettucine topped with picked eggplant, eggplant jam, eggplant strings, and ricotta – a purple feast!

All four dishes presented vegetarian options not as obligatory add-ons to a menu or as tastes-like-cardboard lifestyle decisions but as a full-fledged cuisine in its own right. At no point in time did I think – jeez, what am I doing in a vegetarian place. The food was so reminiscent of the rich, buttery, and creamy dishes you get at New York’s top restaurants that it’s easy to forget there’s no meat!

Dirt Candy is perfect for a ladies night out or a quiet dinner for two. The relaxed and friendly service doesn’t rush you, allowing for a leisurely meal if you wish for it. Looking to experiment with veggies-only cuisine? Dirt Candy is a great starter spot (and trust me, you’ll want to keep coming back).

Dirt Candy on Urbanspoon
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One Comment Post a comment
  1. aww yay!! i'm glad you liked it!! you should have tried the dessert – it's TO DIE FOR. being veg isn't scary at all!! 🙂 next veg place – candle cafe!

    April 16, 2010

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