• 86 Allen Street
• New York, NY 10002
• (212) 228 – 7732 •

“I know a vegan restaurant you’d love!” is not something I'm often told, but it was the text message I received a few days ago. As some of you out there are likely aware, I’m not a vegan. Or a vegetarian. Or a pescatarian. Or an anythingbutredmeatitarian. Indeed, I take great pride in being willing to consume just about anything, even telling the food allergies I have to piss off and go bother someone else. That said, I do know a vegan or two and one of them, Sweet Pea (she chose the name) wanted to go out. Dirt Candy was where she wanted to take me. Dirt Candy isn’t technically vegan, but they’ll veganize most of their dishes if you say pretty please

Dirt Candy, on the Lower East Side, has actually been on my list for quite some time - since but it’s both vegetarian and far from cheap, most people I know would only go under duress - so this was a welcome suggestion.

Dirt Candy's interior is modern and dimly lit. A large open kitchen dominates the center of the space and nearly half of the seats line that kitchen like a bar, allowing patrons to watch all of the action. My attempt to make a reservation earlier in the day was for naught, with the earliest time available being 9:30 or 10:00pm. This was too late for Sweet Pea who, like most teachers, isn’t quite the night owl that I'd like her to be. We decided to risk it and hope that a couple of the few first-come-first-served seats would open up within a reasonable time. We ordered a glass of wine, began our wait, and as luck would have it, didn't even wait that long.

So as a quick spoiler, the food at Dirt Candy was excellent. The drinks were… less excellent. The wine, by and large, is that unfiltered organic plonk which, in private, you'd spit out and pour down the sink. Of course, in public you grit your teeth and pretend to like because you have to demonstrate how much you support non-GMO, fair trade, carbon-footprint-neutral vineyards. I tried two wines: the first one was vile and I sent it back; the second one was okay enough not to join it's brethren, but that was a low bar. Our second round of drinks were cocktails. 

The mixed drinks at Dirt Candy are alcoholic versions of the things you'd find on the menu of an Equinox gym juice bar. Bright colored, loaded with pureed vegetables, and a little gritty, they actually don't taste too bad despite looking laughable. While they'd get jeered out of Death & Co., they do come with the benefit of being able to pretend that you're being healthy. The orange one below is the Autumn Library, a carrot smoothie with whiskey, and the green one in the oversized wine glass is the Celery Rickey, a celery smoothie with gin. Sweet Pea loved her carrot smoothie; I was a fan of the celery one, though it could have used some St. Germaine.
The first food to arrive at the table was a little Whatever Pickles snack that we ordered. It's a random pickled vegetable that could be actual pickles one day and pickled carrots the next. On the day that we went, it was (I believe) picked kale with sesame. And it was amazing. I loved it. You only get a shot glass worth of the stuff, so chew slowly, but you will not regret this one. If only they made a large dish out of this.

That was followed by two small plates, the Mushroom and the Broccoli. Dirt Candy may be complex in the kitchen, but they phoned in the dish titles. The Mushroom was a dish primarily based around a truffle toast, upon which one would "layer as many different flavors as possible" according to our server. There are little balls of portobello mousse, sauteed pear, and dollops of cherry reduction. Mushrooms play a small role when one spells it all out, but actually, that flavor dominated the dish, which was fantastic. Every bite was both rich and smooth, both tart and umami. My only complaint was that the toast was sharp and kindasorta cut into my gum.

The Broccoli dish is the honest vegetarian's version of a hot dog. As I've said in the past, too often, vegetarian food tries to be meatless meat. Chick'n and facon and beefless beef stew. Too often, vegetarian food wants to try to convince vegetarians that they're still eating meat when in reality they're eating some sort of processed soy slop. But not this broccoli dog. Nuh uh. Dirt Candy grills and smokes broccoli stalks, puts them in little buns, layers it with a broccoli slaw and a mustard sauce and it is flat out good. There's a nice sweet tang in the sauce, which the plays well with the natural mild bitterness of broccoli, and there's a satisfying crunch when you bite down. "Maybe they could serve these at a baseball game?" said Sweet Pea. I don't think I'd go quite that far, but take my meat-eating word for it, this was good.
The last dish we shared was the Brussels Sprouts Tacos, a build your own "taco" dish where the primary filler are seared brussels sprouts. The taco is appropriately a lettuce leaf, and it comes with guacamole, little corn chip shreds, jalapeno, radish, pickled onion and some hot sauce. The brussels sprouts themselves are served shredded on a scalding hot stone that continues to slowly cook the vegetable as it sits in front of you. Personally, I found this to be the least impressive of the dishes (I mean, it's just a taco you build yourself from relatively standard ingredients), but it was the most casual. There wasn't any hoity-toity explanation from the server, it was just slapped down in front of us with an "enjoy". Don't get me wrong. I like hoity toity. It makes me feel better when I know I'm gonna drop a half yard or more at the end of the meal, but I liked this too. This made the meal more fun and interactive.
These three dishes might have been relatively small, but they didn't feel it. While we weren't stuffed, we felt perfectly sated. So when the dessert menu was provided, we passed, opting instead to cab it across town to spend the rest of our money at Pegu Club.

If you're a vegetarian tired of saying "oh don't worry, I'll find something on the menu", and want to go somewhere more upscale than a pizza place, Dirt Candy is definitely for you. Sweet Pea enjoyed the cocktails, but as for me, while they were a cute and fun diversion, they felt contrived. A sazerac would have been just as vegetarian here as it would have been in a steakhouse and boozed up smoothies just don't do it for me. That aside, all of the food was excellent. A meat-eating guy like me could easily enjoy himself if he went on a date here and not think twice about why there isn't pork belly on the menu.

I had a great time and I definitely recommend Dirt Candy.

One snack, two small plates, one large plate, two glasses of wine, and two cocktails came to $137 with tax. Dirt Candy is ahead of the curve in that it does not allow tipping.
Dirt Candy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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