Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dirt Candy

Jalapeno Hush Puppies with Maple Margarine.

Carrot Buns with Cucumber Salad.

Celery Salad with Grilled Oyster Mushroom.

Corn Grits with Tempura Watercress.

Fried Green Tomatos on a bed of Tomato Spaetzle

The server is conscientious about asking whether the diners are vegan but it doesn't hurt to order the vegan option specifically. Also, she gives amazing descriptions of the food that can guide you in the right direction if debating between several options. The menu varies seasonally, but these dishes are representative of the type of food and portions that you can anticipate.
1. Starter
JalapeƱo Hush Puppies
From the Menu: "Jalapeno Hush Puppies. Served with maple butter. $6."
Tasting: The hush puppies are incredible. Uniformly crisp from their bath in the deep-fryer, with a savory yet sweet filling spiked with jalapeno pieces that are ample to give good flavor contrast but not too spicy. They're best when fresh served so we devoured nearly all of them (about six to an order) before I could grab my camera. The maple margarine, like the hush puppies, has a flavor interplay: sweet maple marries with salty margarine. My only complaint is that it was served a bit too cold to spread well out of the ramekin, but the heat of the fresh hush puppies was enough to soften it up.
2. Appetizers
a. Carrot Buns
From the Menu: "
Carrot. Steamed barbecue carrot buns,
cucumber & sesame ginger salad. $13."
Tasting: The plate contains three carrot buns, each a different color and flavor of carrot. The outside was chewy yet firm and the inside was kind of gooey. The menu described them as "barbeque" flavor; aside from the sauciness and color of the inside of the bun I'm not sure I really detected barbeque in the dish, certainly not any hallmarks of a classic barbeque sauce like hickory or liquid smoke. Nonetheless the subtle, starchy carrot flavor was nice but the texture, like every other steamed bun, for me is not as satisfying a mouth-feel as something a bit crisper. The salad was a lovely cumber slaw topped with crunchy carrot components; the ginger dressing had the familiar sweet and spicy zing of the ginger sesame dressing on many Japanese restaurant salads, but the added sweetness of additional carrot was a nice tie-in to the rest of the plate and was quite delicious.
b. Celery Salad
From the Menu: "Celery. King oyster mushrooms, celery, pesto, grilled grapes. $12."
Tasting: It's a bit hard to see in the over-exposed image, but the tiny green circles dotting the plate are thinly minced Chinese celery, which is basically like a micro celery. The salad was topped with grilled oyster mushrooms, cut in a ring form that evoked calamari. They were warm and delicious, and paired well with the red onion rings and light, pesto vinaigrette dressing. The grilled eggplant and grapes was also nicely flavored and their softness was a great texture contrast to the crunchy root components. The ramekin at the back of the plate contains non-vegan cheese curds, cordoned off for my non-vegan dinner companions' enjoyment.
3. Entrees
a. Corn
From the Menu: "Corn. Stone ground grits, corn cream, picked shiitakes, huitlacoche, tempura watercress. $18."
Tasting: The vegan version of the Corn entree swaps a tempura egg for tempura watercress, which adorned the grits and was fresh and crispy compared to the soft, creaminess of the corn base. The base contains grits, corn, more watercress, and pickled shiitake mushrooms, with the distinct fungal flavor of huitlacoche dominating the flavor profile. As a serious fan of tex-mex, I love the sweet corn and pungent huitlacoche pairing but it might be off-putting to the novice taster. If like me you're into truffles and truffle oil, you'll love the stuff and steal half of your friend's dinner; yet I can see how it might be overwhelming and a bit unappetizing to the fungus novice, especially given the creamy texture of the dish.
b. Tomato
From the Menu: "Tomato. Fried green tomatoes, toasted coconut and yellow tomato sauce, tomato spaetzle. $19."
Tasting: Three fried green tomato slices sit on watercress, an asparagus onion sautee, and a sea of tomato spaetzle. As a native southerner, I did not anticipate the heavy breading on the tomatoes, which overwhelmed the tomato and made the slightly sour flavor difficult to taste and the firm texture difficult to appreciate . The asparagus component was a nice flavor and crunchy texture contrast to the salty, crisp fried tomatoes and the soft, spaetzle. The spaetzle was replete with indian spices (coriander, cumin, fenugreek) and reminded me very much of mini potato gnocchi texturally. It was quite good and my favorite component of the dish
Repeat. I've been to Dirt Candy many times, usually try nearly every course on the menu, and have always walked away almost always a happy customer. This is one of the best vegan restaurants in the city for people who prefer vegetables to meat substitutes and well-balanced plates. Amanda Cohen, the chef and owner, not only blogs profusely but is also present during service and happy to discuss her food and business with you, which creates a sense of intimacy that you can't experience at many places.

Dirt Candy, East Village,

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