Amanda Cohen’s new Dirt Candy (86 Allen Street, 212-228-7732) may have significantly more space than the old East Village address, which was roughly the size of a walk-in closet, but the wait list for a reservation for the vegetable-centric mecca seems to already be just as long — OpenTable is showing no availability for the next eight weeks. (Don’t take that as gospel, though — if you call the restaurant, you might get a different story.)
If you do manage to score a table, you’ll find that the concept has been modernized and injected with more pop sparkle, presumably to play up the “candy” part of the name. You’ll enter the restaurant under a glittering sign, and find a space that features white leather bar stools, red banquettes, and black stencils of a garden on white walls.
Happily, some of the best elements of the old address’s vibe have been preserved, the best of which is the open kitchen. “That’s what took us so long to find a space,” Cohen told us, as she floated between tables. “I wanted that open kitchen.” It allows her and her staff to be a part of diners’ experiences, and it brings energy into the meal. And this new kitchen looks to be roughly three to four times the size of the old one.
Start with a cocktail if you’d like; drinks are straightforward classics like the gin-and-tonic, margarita, and old-fashioned. Dirt Candy really shines in its wine list, though, which is a thoughtful compilation of unusual picks, many of which are sustainably raised, supplemented by commentary and personal anecdotes. Here’s your chance to try Goldmuskateller (nectary, not unlike Gewurztraminer) or Blaufrankish (similar to Pinot Noir) by the glass. And if you’re uncertain whether you’d like a whole glass, you can have a half-pour, too.
Menus adhere to the candied-up theme, with dishes identified by their starring vegetable, written big in sugary fonts. Descriptions strike a conversational tone — “a fancy Arabic word for sauce,” proclaims a note about chermoula. “A pretentious Italian word for eggplant mousse,” says an explainer about sformata.
You might recognize the broccoli hot dog, the mushroom mousse, and the jalapeño hush puppies from the old space — they’re classics — but you’ll find some new entrants here, too, like the brussels sprouts tacos for two. A pile of buds comes crackling on a hot stone, sided with lettuce leaves meant for wrapping the sprouts plus accoutrements like peppers, tortilla strips, radish, and lime. We ate that as a mid-course between Korean fried broccoli — a must-order that slathers crispy deep-fried stalks in a sweet and earthy chili — and the carrot waffles, which treats shreds of carrots a bit like pulled pork, piling them onto a carrot-infused waffle with a little slaw. Other entrees include a mapo eggplant, curried cauliflower, and butternut squash scallopini. You’ll find kale matzoh ball soup and a warm potato salad among the appetizers.
The dessert list is also organized by vegetable, and each has a definite savory thread to balance out the sweet. Our favorite? The chocolate onion tart, a smooth and rich meditation on cocoa that came supplemented with brittle wisps of onion rings and smoked almond ice cream.
Cohen eliminated tipping at Dirt Candy, and explains at the bottom of her menu that a 20 percent administrative fee will be tacked on to the total. She also promises to pay her workers a fair wage. How does that feel to the diner? When we received our credit card slip at the end of the meal, it had no line for a tip — and that’s when we remembered the policy. It made us feel like we’d gotten a 20 percent discount — and therefore a great deal.