getting excited about eating your veggies has never been easier and a reservation at dirt candy, an innovative vegetarian restaurant in the east village and the latest by amanda cohen (angelika kitchen), is your ticket in. a sense of culinary adventure hits you immediately in this smaller-than-my-studio-apartment-sized, lounge-lit, basement-level gem. starting with the menu, dishes are all named with inclusive exclamation points, as if instructing me to be enthusiastic about my order, like: “carrots!” “cauliflower!” and my surprise favorite, “celery!”.
with a menu like that, my guest and i were curious about everything and decided to order tapas-style in order to taste as much as possible. part of the fun was figuring out how the plates’ namesake had infused the dish as its overarching ingredient, or remembering what elements were involved in the first place as with the carrot halvah dusted over the carrot dish, or the grilled grapes snuck into the celery course.
first to arrive were our jalapeno hush puppies and maple butter appetizer. with a subtle heat, the sweet maple butter was a perfect compliment to these bite-sized snacks. on to “carrots!”, which consisted of steamed barbecue carrot buns, cucumber & sesame ginger salad dusted with the aforementioned carrot halvah. the buns were perfectly dense without feeling too heavy, and the carrots added a light sweetness to the dumplings and salad. “celery!” was composed of king oyster mushrooms, celery, pesto, grilled grapes, and cheese curds that left a surprising, almost willy wonka-esque celery aftertaste which, yes, sounds unappealing but in context actually worked and had me laughing out loud.
our final two courses were “cauliflower!” and “chard!”. i can’t lie to you (or apparently, my waitress: i’m sorry!!! i blame the intimate quarters!), but chard was not my favorite. with chard gnocchi on a bed of (what else?) chard, believe me, i was ready to give it my heart and award it first prize, but not so fast. something wasn’t working for me. i’ll wager to guess it was the garlic oatmeal garnish that left me cold and for which i’ll subtract one exclamation point. the cauliflower though, like most everything else, was a hit. smoky, breaded cauliflower on top of a perfect buttermilk waffle, pickled cauliflower and wild arugula resulted in a delightful mixture of both flavors and textures, ending the meal on a high note. it was the type of dinner that my friend and i left the restaurant still talking about even blocks later, still trying to piece together the flavors that had come together (some more successfully than others) in such a unique way. the meal had certainly kept us on our toes. in other words, “success!”.