Please excuse the fact that I’m going to start this restaurant review by discussing its bathroom. But when you walk in there, after dining to the alternative music that’s the standard aural fare in many restaurants, it’s startling to suddenly be greeted by the sound of tweeting birds and the hum of instincts. If you were to close your eyes, you’d swear you were in a meadow in midsummer. That soundtrack upends expectations as does the food. Sure, like most vegetarian restaurants, Dirt Candy takes some inspiration from dishes that are usually made with meat, but once you start digging into, say, the Kale matzo ball soup, and marveling at how the poached egg in it somehow translates the flavor into the chicken soup realm, you realize it’s the unexpected tastes that make the dish special, like the smoky thump of the shisito peppers, the herbaceous broth and the snap of okra chunks. The soup becomes an utterly unique sensation. The same delightful transfiguration occurs with the broccoli stuffed hot dogs, which will take you back to childhood ballpark pleasures; and the decadent chocolate tart that looks pretty standard, until you remember the crunchy bits are caramelized onion (who knew chocolate and onion would meld so well together?). An elegant setting and discreet service brings this even further into the realm of a restaurant that will have a much wider audience than just vegetarians. Note: All dishes can also be made vegan.
- Pauline Frommer