Dirt is not a word you necessarily associate with fine dining. I, for one, tend to avoid dirt. I don’t like to get messy; maybe I’m too much of city slicker. Yet, dirt has recently, at least for me, taken on a new meaning. That’s because it is part of a name of the best vegetarian restaurant in New York City. And I will go one step further and say that Dirt Candy transcends its vegetarianism and is, at least in my mind, one of the best restaurants in the city.
Recently, a guest and I had the pleasure of dining at this temple of vegetables. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good vegetable. I’m Italian, it’s in my DNA. But, Dirt Candy, goes beyond a well-placed tomato or a fancy cucumber. No, it elevates the vegetable; it turns the lowly beat into art. Each dish is thoughtfully crafted to bring maximum flavor and visual pleasure to their well-heeled clients.
The mastermind behind such competence with the veggie is Amanda Cohen; she is both chef and owner of this award-winning restaurant. So ahead of her time was she, that hers was the first vegetable-focused restaurant in the city and the clear leader of the vegetable-forward movement (of which there are now many adherents to this new religion).
To speak of our meal is to speak in glowing adjectives. Who knew, at least my thinking went, the vegetable could be so pleasing? This is total credit to Cohen and her staff. Recently, the restaurant decided to eliminate their a la carte menu and now serves two tasting options: the Vegetable Patch (5 courses) and the one we had, the Vegetable Garden (9-10 courses). The longer menu changes based on the season and whatever the restaurant’s purveyors bring them that week.
The individual dishes we had almost don’t matter, as each presented its respective veggie on a pedestal and gave us a new perspective on the ingredient. However, some of the standouts included a Korean fried broccoli that was – all at once – spicy, tangy, crunchy and a revelation. I didn’t know broccoli could taste like this! Another dish that made an impression was the spinach spätzle. Now, as an Italian, I’m not fan of German or Austrian spätzle, thinking we have a bit of cultural appropriation on our hands; however, the amount of spinach flavor Ms. Cohen got into this humble pasta was breathtaking (and mouthwatering). I have never, in over ten years of doing this, had a pasta pack as much vegetable flavor within the dough as this did. Credit is due; it was an amazing dish and representative of the quality and care the restaurant puts into each dish.
My guest and I thoroughly enjoyed our meal. I urge you to book your table today and find out how the vegetable can easily become the star of the show. Perhaps, for once, it will be both an enjoyable meal and one that is also good for the waistline.