430 E. 9th Street, 10009
Web Site: http://www.dirtcandynyc.com
Since changing my dietary habits I’ve started to eat a lot more vegetarian cuisine, or food that incorporates a lot more vegetable content in it. However, I’ve never considered myself a vegetarian or God forbid, a Vegan.
Still, some chefs are talented enough to do marvelous and highly creative things with vegetables. They are few and far between, but they do exist. One of these chefs is Natural Gourmet Institute graduate Amanda Cohen, formerly the Chef de Cuisine at Pure Food and Wine, considered to be among the city’s best vegetarian restaurants, as well as at the late Heirloom (closed in 2006) which was highly regarded for its vegetarian cuisine. Chef Cohen has paired herself with the talents of Pastry Chef Debbie Lee, who hails from P*ONG (Pastry Chef Pichet Ong’s restaurant in Greenwich Village) as well as Pure Food and Wine, where she worked with Amanda.
The tiny storefront of Dirt Candy, in Manhattan’s East Village, close to Tompkins Square Park.
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Dirt Candy’s tiny main dining room, which has seating capacity for about 24. The entire restaurant, including its tables, chairs and all the design elements are made of recycled materials.
Chef Amanda at her little prep station which faces the main dining room.
The seasonal menu.
While the dining room is indeed very small and tight quarters, the effect is a very cozy and welcoming atmosphere.
The bread was a nice foccacia with herb infused olive oil.
We ordered two wines, a Spanish Cava Brut Rose (girly wine!) sparkling red as well as a German Sylvaner, which had a nice acidity to it.
Jalapeno served with maple butter. Everybody loved these, and the Jalapenos added just the right amount of heat to go with the sweetness of the maple syrup butter.
Spinach Soup with Smoked Tofu Dumplings lemon confit, water chestnuts and pistachio oil. While indeed a striking looking soup, I thought something was missing from this. Without having a bit of confit with each spoonful I thought it was underseasoned and the concentrated spinach favor resulted in an unpleasant bitter aftertaste I didn’t like.
A wider view of the dining room.
Greek Salad trumpet royale mushrooms and preserved lemon mayo. This was an Israeli-style Mediterranean salad, with lots of olives (which I love) a sharp Feta cheese and wonderful breaded fried trumpet mushrooms on top, meant to be an analogue to Calamari Rings. At first we thought they were actually Onion Rings — even until this morning, when the chef corrected me on it. We adored this dish.
Portobello Mousse, fennel, with pear compote. Here mushrooms were given a textural treatment to make them behave like Pate de Foie Gras, and it was definitely successful. A vegetarian charcuterie, if you will.
Chef Amanda beaming over her lovely dishes.
Mixed Greens with Grilled Cheese Croutons, roasted garlic vinaigrette and candied grapefruit pops. The grapefruit slices were treated like candy apples and had a nice candy shell on them. Each crouton was actually a miniature grilled cheese sandwich, which we all thought was cute. There’s definitely a lot of whimsy in Amanda’s food.
Crispy Tofu with Green Ragout and kaffir lime beurre blanc. I typically don’t like tofu as a focus dish, I prefer it to pick up flavors from meat and sauce, and use it as a protein extender with traditional Asian-style dishes such as a Sichuan Ma Po Tofu or Korean Soondubu Jigae. Still, using the seared tofu block with the crispy skin over the rich vegetable base as a fish analogue worked very well.
The kitchen itself is very tight quarters, there’s only one Sous Chef on the line here besides Amanda.
Stone Ground Grits with pickled shitakes and a tempura poached egg. This was one of my favorite dishes of the entire evening, I loved the richness of the grits/polenta with the ricotta cheese and the runny egg.
Carrot Risotto carrot drops and carrot curls. We were all in agreement that this was the most successful dish of the evening. This was a perfectly implemented risotto cooked in carrot juices, giving it an intense carrot flavor. The carrot pieces are actually coins of home made carrot pasta meant to look like sliced carrots.
Pinot Grigio Papardelle roasted cauliflower and pine nuts.
I really liked the pasta sauce, which had a great acidic flavor and punch from the wine, and the roasted cauliflower with the pine nuts was an excellent combination. However the pasta itself was fairly pedestrian, I think the dish needed a heartier pasta, perhaps a gnocchi or a wider/thicker noodle ribbon with a texture.
Popcorn Pudding with hazelnut caramel corn. I really liked this dessert, like a popcorn/Cracker Jack Pot au Creme.
Sesame Caramel Cake citrus salad, grapefruit sorbet. Intense grapefruit sorbet with fresh citrus fruit over a sesame cake. This was Rachel’s favorite.
Ricotta Fritters green tomato marmalade, lemon olive oil ice cream. These guys went really fast.
Chocolate Cake chocolate chili ice cream, sweet potato sorbet. I’m a chocolate freak, so naturally this dessert was my favorite. Super intense dark chocolate ice cream, which a perfect warm brownie with a nice crust and semi-molten chocolate cake on the inside. What’s not to like?
Coffee and Tea was served in individual Bodum thermal press pots. This was a thoughtful presentation considering it’s wintertime and it’s nice to have the beverage stay hot.