The Dirt on Dirt Candy

My friends often ask me where they should take their vegetarian visitors. “What is your favorite vegetarian restaurant in the city,” they ask. About a year ago I wouldn’t have known how to answer that question. While it’s always great to have the option of going to a restaurant that serves only vegetarian fare, most of them are pretty lackluster. Usually, any place with great food has a very casual and relaxed atmosphere – not somewhere where you can impress out-of-towners.  Sure there are a few standouts, but these places tend to take the approach of a fine-dining meat based restaurant using tofu/tempeh/seitan to replace the meat. But then, finally, Dirt Candy arrived on the New York Culinary scene. At Dirt Candy, chef Amanda Cohen is all about treating vegetables like the stars of the dishes. According to the website, she says:

I don’t care about your health. And I don’t care about your politics either. But I do care about cooking vegetables. Most of the best vegetarian dishes I’ve eaten have been at non-vegetarian restaurants…I’ve always wanted to work at a place that put cooking vegetables and doing amazing things with them first, and put lifestyle, health and political choices second.

I have been waiting for a restaurant like this my entire life. And Dirt Candy does not disappoint. For starters, do not miss the mushroom appetizer – it’s a surprising and beautiful combination of flavors and textures – sweet, soft, crunchy, salty – that is served year round. In the summer time, go for the caramelized grapefruit salad, but beware of the occasional squirt to the eye. For the entrée, try the broccolini served with crispy tofu, broccoli and orange buerre blanc (kafir lime buerre blanc in the summer). Yes, I know I just dissed restaurants who serve mostly tofu items, but trust me, this is nothing like what you’ve had before. This is high quality soft tofu that is wrapped in a layer of crispy soy and flavored with the most out-of-this world buerre blanc you’ve ever tasted. I tried both the orange and kafir lime versions of this sauce and almost licked the plate both times. If you are adamantly against tofu main dishes, the parsnip gnocchi is also an excellent option. If you aren’t too full at this point to try dessert, I’d go for the popcorn pudding. Though if you’d like to walk off some calories before enjoying a sweet treat – you could always walk a few blocks over to Momofuku Milk Bar and try my absolute favorite cookie: the compost cookie.

Hats off to Amanda Cohen – can’t wait to see what you come up with next!

mushroom appetizer

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