Having friends in town (one of whom is vegetarian) gave us an easy excuse to make reservations at Dirt Candy. Owner and executive chef Amanda Cohen opened this tiny, narrow spot (seats no more than 30) highlighting various seasonal vegetables. In her words, "Made of little more than water and sunlight, vegetables are candy from the dirt". And though the prices are a little steep for meatless dishes (the bill quickly adds up!), most of the plates left us happy and satisfied.
We perused the "Sprinter menu" that featured Spring and Winter vegetables. With an open kitchen, we were all getting very warm so we ordered a bottle of Stadlemann Rotgipfler Tagelsteiner (2008, $35), a crisp, white wine. The wine's freshness balanced out the addictive fried Jalapeno Hush Puppies ($6) with the sweet maple butter.
For the open-minded meat-lover, we thought that the Mushroom starter followed by the Parsnip gnocchi would be the most enjoyed meal. The Mushroom starter ($13) was a cubed portobello mousse, truffled toast, and pear and fennel compote. Loved the umami flavor (also found in meat) from the various mushroom preparations.
Given its heartiness, meat-lovers would also enjoy the Parsnip gnocchi ($19) with creamy root vegetables, sour red cabbage, and sweet carrot cake crumbs. The dish was so warm and comforting. We loved how its richness was balanced by the acidic cabbage.
Our vegetarian friend enjoyed his Steamed BBQ carrot buns ($13) with a slaw of cucumber, sesame, and ginger salad. It seemed inspired by Chinese pork buns (though I still missed the pork).
As his main, he ordered the Crispy tofu with Broccolini and Broccoli ($17) in an orange beurre blanc. Looking like a white fish fillet, the tofu skin had a nice sear on it.
I opted for the Spring Pea Broth ($12) with pea flan, wasabi pea leaves, and colorful pickled potatoes (which adds a ginger taste).
Hot broth (made of spring peas, pea shoots, sugar snap peas and Kaffir lime leaves, is poured on top for a delicate, light soup. Overall, it was too subtle for my taste and I would have preferred the Mushroom starter.
I did enjoy the burst of flavor from my entree selection, Stone ground grits with tempura poached egg ($18). The sweetness of the corn cream with the brightness of the cilantro, and the earthiness of the pickled shiitakes all made for a delightful dish.
And, of course, the poached egg was perfectly runny on top.
By the time we got the dessert menu, we were all so full but of course, I was still eager to order a sweet treat. Though I would have liked to take advantage of the Emotional Overeating Awareness Month offer, I couldn't gorge on two desserts as my friends watched.
So I chose only one dessert so that we could all share: the Red Pepper Velvet Cake ($11) with white chocolate and peanut ice cream and a peanut brittle stick on top. We all liked the ice cream, brittle, and cream cheese frosting. The red pepper velvet cake itself was interesting. It had the same texture and a lighter color than regular red velvet cake, but tasted like red pepper with a sweet and lightly spicy flavor.
Dirt Candy is located at 430 E 9th St (btwn 1st Ave and Ave A) in NYC.