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Dinner at Dirt Candy

Allowing the other person to choose a restaurant can be as bad as sending an email to the wrong recipient. There is no going back. So when Allie suggested that we meet for dinner at the East Village’s newest vegetarian restaurant, “Dirt Candy,” I was slightly frightened. What would a tofu-hater order from small, meatless menu?

I decided to check out Dirt Candy’s website to view menus and figure out what was behind such an odd name. 10 minutes on the site turned in to 30 as I read through Chef Amanda Cohen’s captivating blog. I was pleasantly surprised by the menu, as well. What’s not to love about jalapeno hush puppies or grits topped with a tempura poached egg? And finally, my question was answered: “What is dirt candy? Vegetables, of course. When you eat a vegetable you’re eating nothing more than dirt that’s been transformed by plenty of sunshine and rain into something that’s full of flavor – candy from the dirt. Dirt Candy.”

Located in a chic shoebox-sized space on 9th Street between 1st and Avenue A, the restaurant brilliantly utilizes every nook and cranny (I actually think that my apartment is bigger!). Dirt Candy seems special and intimate, in that it creates an atmosphere similar to dining at home among close friends and family.

Staff graciously allowed me to wait for Allie at our reserved table. Once she arrived, we wasted no time and began ordering. To whet our appetites, Allie and I chose to split an order of Jalapeno Hush Puppies (served with maple butter) and Portobello Mousse (with fennel/pear compote). Both appetizers proved outstanding examples of successful modern twists on comfort food. For an entree, Allie chose the Crispy Tofu with Green Ragout and a kaffir lime beurre blanc and I ordered the Stone Ground Grits with pickled shitakes and a tempura poached egg. While I can’t speak of Allie’s tofu, my meal exploded with a medley of different flavors and textures. The highlight of my dish was cutting in to the tempura-battered poached egg, which released a gorgeous yolk-y interior that draped the grits. My only complaint would be the pickled mushrooms, which left a sour/briny aftertaste on my tongue.

To end our meal on an even sweeter note, Allie and I split pastry chef Debbie Lee’s Popcorn Pudding with hazelnut caramel corn. Accompanying a mason jar filled with pale-yellow pudding was a small bowl of popcorn dredged in caramel. Our waitress insisted that we dip the popcorn kernels in to the pudding, a-la chips and dip. I had a lovely evening at Dirt Candy and would recommend this restaurant to anyone looking for an excellent vegetarian meal. Staff could not have been more kind, gracious or knowledgeable about Dirt Candy’s food and wine.

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