Chef Amanda Cohen just has a way with vegetables.
That prowess is what lead her closet-size East Village restaurant Dirt Candy to become one of the few vegetarian establishments to inspire the kind of foodie frenzy (and Michelin star approval) usually reserved for establishments with meat-filled menus.
The restaurant has been so hot with the downtown (and veggie loving) crowd that they needed a bigger space to accommodate their demand. Last week, Cohen opened the doors at the much-larger, Lower East Side Dirt Candy 2.0…and you already can’t get a reservation until April.
Still, there are lots of reasons to grab one and then anxiously await the onset of spring. “We have a much bigger menu, a full bar, and a space that’s really nice to dine in,” Cohen says of the new digs, which include an open kitchen with a counter for additional seats and a super cute marquee outside.
And before you worry that the food was an afterthought to the space, that aforementioned menu still celebrates produce in a huge way, with each dish showcasing a star veggie, like Kale Matzo Ball Soup, Butternut Squash Scallopini, and Broccoli Dogs.
Hungry yet? Here are three more things you need to know about the Mission Chinese of vegetarian food.
1. There are tons of new menu items to try. “I’m really excited about every new dish,” Cohen says. “They’re really fun and we had a lot of time to come up with them and make them into true Dirt Candy dishes. There was no rushing with this.” Some stand-outs are the Pulled, Pickled, and Jerked Carrots with Peanut Mole Sauce on Carrot Waffles, Mapo Eggplant with Baby Bok Choi, Baby Pea Shoots, and Eggplant Mousse, and fun entreés designed to share, like Brussels Sprout Tacos.
2. You may actually be able get a table sooner than it seems. Cohen says that while tables are technically booked until April, she’s been limiting the capacity to allow the staff to get acclimated. “I imagine as we get more comfortable, more tables will start to open up,” she says. And they do take walk-ins, so if you’re not opposed to waiting, you can try your luck.
3. They’re going Euro style (AKA there’s no tipping). Cohen has been involved in the growing conversation in the restaurant industry around tipping, so in the new location, she decided to incorporate gratuity directly into menu prices. That way, she can reward and punish employees based on their performance herself, rather than letting the customers do it for her. “Everybody here is paid a very fair wage, including the servers,” she says, explaining that the system allows her to eliminate the massive pay gap that usually exists between kitchen and dining room staffers.
But for now, you’ll see a 20 percent “admin fee” added to your check, since Cohen says absorbing gratuity into her prices off the bat would make her menu look much more expensive than competing restaurants, pre-gratuity. Though right now, with the place mostly booked up into April, “competition” is kind of a moot point. —Lisa Elaine Held
Dirt Candy, 86 Allen St., between Grand and Broome Sts., Lower East Side, 212-228-7732, www.dirtcandynyc.com