Sunday, October 6, 2013

Dirt Candy

My pictures did not come out, but here are four leeks. Or are they scallions? Hmm...
There comes a day in the life of every young woman when she does something absolutely abhorrent to her body in the name of having a cool experience. This is exactly what I did at Dirt Candy, a vegetarian restaurant in New York City that serves whimsical dishes made exclusively of photosynthesizing things that grow in the ground.

When one hears “vegetarian,” one envisions something healthy, like steamed carrots. Dirt Candy wants to shatter that association and melt maple butter all over it. Here are some things that are vegetarian: French fries. Waffles. Deep-fried waffles. Ice cream. Five-cheese ravioli. Speculoos cookie butter. Speculoos butter on a deep-fried waffle.

In conclusion, “vegetarian” and “healthy” are hardly synonyms. I learned this lesson the hard way at Veggie Galaxy in Boston a few months ago as I choked down the last bite of vegan cream cheese waffle and this week I learned it again. I am no stranger to making myself sick with yummy foods. Everything I ate at Dirt Candy was deep fried, slathered in butter, or alchemically transmogrified into cotton candy.

Dirt Candy, it turns out, gets completely booked at least three months ahead of time. I found this out when I tried to make a reservation online. I might have secured a seat sometime in June of 2014. Instead, my friend Abbey and I showed up around the time the doors opened and tap danced in their window until they seated us. (Until someone forgot that reservation they made three months ago.) Every time someone got seated, we hovered in the window with a look of disdain that burned into the very essence of their beings, especially when they sipped a beverage. The unseasonable October heat was oppressive and I was dressed for autumn.

Inside, the seating was intimate. The waitress pulled the table out so that I would be able to squeeze into the bench against the wall. We ordered jalapeno hush puppies with maple butter. We liberally applied the maple butter. Maple butter is a shameful thing to waste.

Everything on the menu was enthusiastically named after its primary vegetable ingredient. Mushroom! Cucumber! Potato! I took my chances the Parsnip! while Abbey asked for the Corn! as her entrĂ©e. My dish was described as “parsnip pillows” – essentially, extra squishy parsnip gnocchi. On Abbey’s plate, a tempura-fried poached egg sat atop some very cheesy and savory corn grits.

One of my main motivations for wanting to go to this vegetable alchemy lab was to try a dessert made of vegetables. We wavered between an ice cream bar made of peas and rosemary eggplant tiramisu. We asked the waitress what we should order.

“You want the tiramisu,” she said very seriously.

Of course, the tiramisu was two dollars more than the other desserts. When the plate arrived, we first saw this white fluffy cloud hovering on the plate. The woman next to me leaned in.

“Is that a wedding veil?” she asked.

No, that was the rosemary cotton candy. Resting below the cloud was a 2” by 2” square slice of tiramisu. It tasted like tiramisu, but also like eggplant. Somehow it worked. The cotton candy tasted like rosemary and I haven’t had cotton candy since age ten and probably will not have it again. My pancreas got so angry at me. I can’t believe you've done this, said my pancreas.

As we walked out of the restaurant, I felt like I needed a small perambulator on which Abbey could wheel me through the streets of Manhattan. Instant nausea. Between the butter and the sugar and the creamy sauces and all the disparate food items, I felt like my entire body shut down in order to digest the chaos. I wanted to make words and talk to my friend, but apparently walking and digesting and listening and speaking at the same time was more multitasking than I could manage. I suggested we walk it off, perhaps in the direction of a hospital. The walking did not last long and I ducked out early to go home and recover.

Was it worth it? Yes. I enjoyed the eating. Can I eat like this every day? No. I felt a little sad after the meal because I don’t get to see Abbey too often and here I was channeling all of my energy into assimilating the parsnip pillows. We made some jokes about the cotton candy being a poodle, but the thing is I actually felt like I ate a poodle. If I ate a small, snooty dog, that is exactly how I would feel. The Dirt Candy experience, although delicious, was a good reminder of why I eat the way I do.


  1. That restaurant sounds really interesting! Vegetables that taste like candy and deliciousness? Awesome! It's crazy that the place is booked three months in advance!

  2. It was very interesting! But never again...