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Dirt Candy: Manhattan’s Veggie Experts All Grits and Beans

Executive Chef Amanda Cohen presides over Dirt Candy’s Vegan Menu.

Dirt Candy, also known as vegetables, is the name of this East Village restaurant that celebrates the miracle of transforming rain, soil and sunshine into delicious, healthy food. Executive Chef Amanda Cohen opened in October, 2008 and the fact that she’s survived in a tough economy means she must be doing something right. And, since she’s the chef that means cooking.

Since opening, the restaurant has been named “Best Vegetarian Restaurant in NYC” by both amNew York and L Magazine, and the Village Voice singled it out for having the “Best Grits in NYC,” according to the restaurant’s Web site.

Cohen was named one of the twelve Rising Star Chefs in New York by Starchefs, and the 2010 Michelin Guide included Dirt Candy as one of their Bib Gourmand choices. It’s one of only 85 restaurants worldwide to receive the designation.

Grits are the official food of South Carolina, but Dirt Candy has adopted this staple and taken it up a few notches.

Grits headline their signature dish, Corn: stone ground grits, corn cream, pickled shiitakes, huitlacoche (a delectable black fungi—mini black mushrooms—that grow on corn, usually associated with Mexican cuisine), and a tempura poached egg. Tis’ moaning good.

Their revolving, seasonal 13-item menu (including desserts) served in an 18-seat space allows the woman-owned refuge to shine.

Exotic comfort food is doled out by a calm open kitchen while patient waiters aim to please.

Located half a block from Tompkins Square Park, they’ve embraced the regional modern grooviness.

Redefining vegetarian gourmet, the mushroom appetizer satisfies with a pate-consistency portobello mousse, truffled toast, and a pear and fennel compote—proof that even steak devotees don’t always require animal parts to satisfy hunger.

Appetizers run $12 to $13 and also include simply named fare, such as “Pea,” ($12) a garden pea broth, spring pea flan with
wasabi pea leaves; “Carrot,” ($13) steamed barbecue carrot buns, cucumber & sesame ginger salad and “Celery” ($12), king oyster mushrooms, celery, pesto, grilled grapes and cheese curds.

Entrées are under $20 and also go by simple one-word names.

Dirt Candy's fritters.

“Tomato” ($19) consists of fried green tomatoes, toasted coconut & yellow tomato sauce and tomato spaetzle; “Corn” ($18) includes the specialty, stone ground grits, corn cream, pickled shiitakes, huitlacoche and tempura poached egg.

The healthy food hedonism pauses for their fine wine selections.

Cohen says the restaurant doesn’t have much room to store cases of wine, so she avoids the usual suspects — Syrahs, Cabernets, Chardonnays, Pinot Grigios — and has developed her own custom wine list.

She calls it, “the strangest and most unusual wines I could find, sort of like a wine zoo for exotic animals.”

She also seems bent on resurrecting Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine best known to binge drinkers as Riunite.

Its seemed odd to see smokers huddled outside while waiting to be seated. Reservations recommended.

Dirt Candy
430 E 9th St (between 1st Ave and Ave A)
New York, NY
Tele: 212.228.7732
On the Web: DirtCandy.com

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