NYC: Dirt Candy is a Garden of Eden

It used to be cause for celebration when a chef did something creative with vegetables. It’s not such a rarity anymore. But it is unusual for a completely vegetarian restaurant to be on par with other top notch dining destinations. Chef/owner Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy is a chef to be respected, and hopefully emulated. She has created the supremely excellent Dirt Candy, and made it one of New York City’s finest.

This is my restaurant of choice for a birthday celebration in Manhattan that includes my husband, children, and their significant others. Three members in our party are kosher, two are pescatarian -and one of them is gluten free.  There is no restaurant in the city more suited to our group than Dirt Candy.

Dirt Candy is not new, but it’s in a new location in the Lower East Side.  The space is bright and white with splashes of bold color and a whimsical feel. We start out at the bar, where my husband engages the bartender in creating a new cocktail which is a hybrid of the Gin & Tonic with the Poolside Breeze (prosecco, cilantro, and cucumber.) They combine gin, cilantro, cucumber, and jalapeno and decide to call it a Grumpy Gardner.

To say that this is a restaurant that elevates vegetables is an understatement.  Dirt Candy takes vegetables to extraordinary heights, and then some. We opt for a tasting menu at $65 per person.  It’s one of those meals where you really have no idea how much food you are about to consume. I appreciate the mystery. A team of enthusiastic servers deliver our dishes with a clear respect for the food.

Radishes with housemade ricotta and pesto made from radish tops is the beginning of our Gardner extravaganza in this Garden of Eden.

Dirt candy radish

Korean fried broccoli is the dish that entices me from the moment I check out the menu, months prior to our visit.  The menu description is spot on: “basically it’s crack in broccoli form.”  It’s no wonder this is one of Dirt Candy’s most popular dishes.

Korean fried broccoli

One of my personal favorite dishes is tomato cake with balsamic reduction and tomato leather.  It’s smoky, salty, and sultry.

dirt candy tomato 3

Dirt Candy photo from

Carrot waffle with mole is one of the prettiest dishes, but not universally admired among our group.  Taking advantage of the various components  of the dish is somewhat awkward, but I admire its unique characteristics.

dirt candy carrot and waffles

Jalapeno hush puppies with maple butter returns us to our revelatory state with their punched up flavor.

Dirt Candy jalapeno hush puppies

Brussels sprouts tacos served on a hot stone arrive when we are too stuffed to fully appreciate their goodness.  We love the opportunity to play with our food, and create our own flavor combinations. This belongs on top of the list for a return visit.

Dirt candy brussel sprouts tacos

Desserts do not escape an infusion of vegetables.  There’s hominy cake with corn ice cream and vegetable ice cream salad.  It’s hard to imagine dessert featuring lettuce sorbet, cucumber sorbet, yellow beet ice cream, grilled radicchio ice cream, goat cheese ice cream, walnut cake croutons, maraschino grapefruit, and dill sprinkles.  But this is Dirt Candy, so it makes perfect sense.

dirt candy dessert

One of my favorite things about Dirt Candy is that Chef Cohen creates vegetable dishes that don’t pretend to be something else. Vegetables are the star, and her creativity is utilized to make them shine. In fact, she doesn’t think of Dirt Candy as a vegetarian restaurant, but rather a vegetable restaurant.

My only gripe relates to the tasting menu experience for my gluten-free daughter-in-law.  At times we are presented with a dish that she can’t eat, and rather than give her a concurrent substitute, she is kept waiting.  It’s a minor quibble, but at one point we’re left fearing that she is not going to have enough to eat. This is resolved by the end of the meal, but some shuffling around of the gluten-free options would help.

Dirt Candy has gained a reputation for more than its stellar food.  The restaurant has instituted a no-tipping policy.  Instead there is a 20% admin fee added to the meal.  I am an advocate for this policy, as it helps even out wages for employees.  It seems to be working, and the staff is clearly engaged in what they are doing.

Our meal at Dirt Candy exceeds our expectations and satisfies our various dietary needs as no other restaurant can.  You might say it’s a meal of biblical proportions.

Dirt Candy, 86 Allen Street, New York, NY

Eater interview with Amanda Cohen

New York Times article by Jeff Gordinier:  “Little Sprout Grows Up:  Amanda Cohen Replants Her Vegetable Restaurant Dirt Candy”

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