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How to Be a Winner with Your Dirt Candy Reservation

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It sucks to make a reservation at Dirt Candy. Let’s just get that out of the way right up front. I know it sucks, you know it sucks and, objectively, it really does suck. Why? Because I only have nine tables. So a reservation for one of them becomes a savage exercise in winner-take-all gladiatorial combat. So let me say it right now: I’m sorry. I’m sorry my restaurant isn’t bigger. I’m sorry I can’t get you in tomorrow night to celebrate your birthday. I’m sorry I can’t get your boss in tonight even though he’s very famous. I’m sorry I can’t get you in this Saturday at eight o’clock even though you are coming here from Germany just to eat my food and your vacation will be ruined if you don’t get a table. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

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I will even be sorry after I am dead.

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Right now, if you want to get into Dirt Candy at primetime on Friday night, it’ll take some doing. Try! Because you never know who just canceled, but you’ll have more luck if you do it two months beforehand. Now, I have no clue if I’ll still even be eating solid food two months from now, let alone where I’ll want to have dinner. But the only way this will change is if Dirt Candy magically gets bigger, and that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon. So, for now you and I both have to put up with the Dirt Candy that actually exists, not the one that we both wish existed.

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But here are my tips that might help you make your Dirt Candy reservation better:

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Should You Go to Cooking School?

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After “How do I become a chef?” the question I get asked most often is “Should I go to cooking school?” The short answer: maybe. The longer, more complicated answer: maybe, kind of?

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“Your opinion is vague and irritating.”

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How to Be a Chef

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One thing I get asked a lot is how to become a chef, so I figured that I’d save everyone (and me!) time by putting my advice up here for the world to see. It all boils down to one word: don’t.

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It never ends well.

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If that doesn’t discourage you, then here’s my advice on what you need to do. This isn’t the only way, and it’s maybe not the best way, but I don’t know any other way. Like most people who own restaurants, I have tunnel vision and can only imagine doing things the way I did it.

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The Glamorous Life of a Chef!

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Swanky sparkles! That’s what it’s like every morning when I get out of bed at 8am. And when I drop my tired ass back into bed at around 1am, leaving a trail of filthy clothes scattered behind me across my apartment floor, I feel like a real celebrity. If you’re an actual working chef in your kitchen, the kind who’s running the line every night, there is no chance you’ll get a big head or become arrogant. Life keeps reminding you that you have the filthiest job on the planet. And you’d better learn to love that filth or you’re in the wrong business.

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Tres chic! Cleaning a clogged grease trap.
Don’t worry, it smells worse than it looks.

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Oo la la! Is someone in their storage space hunting through
months of past credit card receipts because a customer
called asking for a hard copy of it for their records? Oui.

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Open Table Fail

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Last night, my Open Table reservation system died. The CPU and screen in the restaurant just crashed and refused to restart. I called Open Table and they’re shipping me a new one…Monday? Probably Monday, but they won’t guarantee it.

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On top of that, here’s the message you get when you go to the Open Table system, since I can’t accept reservations via Open Table until they replace their crashed system:

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“Please accept our apologies on behalf of Dirt Candy. Online reservations are not available on this date at this restaurant.”

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I asked them to PLEASE put up a message that said, “The Open Table system for Dirt Candy is down. Please contact the restaurant directly if you’d like to make a reservation.” I was told that was impossible because – and this is my favorite part – Open Table does not want to encourage anything but online reservations. I pointed out to them that this was temporary and that it was only because their system had failed. Too bad, I was told. Open Table does not want to encourage anything but online reservations.

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So…if you want to cancel a reservation at Dirt Candy for tonight, please contact the restaurant directly by phone (212-228-7732). If you’ve got a pre-existing reservation for tonight, you’re good! But otherwise we have to do walk-ins. Thanks!

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Dirt Candy: No Exit

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I’ve described Dirt Candy before as my child. My big, angry child. Who wants to kill me. So when you imagine Dirt Candy, realize that it’s not so much like this:

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But more like this:

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Last week, however, Dirt Candy was acting more like this:

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I had my first Saturday outside the restaurant I’ve had since Dirt Candy opened 3 years ago, and it turned into a battle of wills that almost saw me dead. Read on for the terrifying tale.

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Group off!

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I know that everyone loves a deal, and I’ve spent my fair share of time watching in awe as eXtreme Couponers get $640 of groceries for $5.41 on TV, but I am really, really getting tired of being cold called almost every single day by phone bullies from sites like Groupon, Living Social and Blackboard Eats. The calls always go exactly the same way. They recite some rote boilerplate about all the amazing things they’re going to do for my business, I tell them I only have 18 tables and don’t want to use their services but thanks for calling. Then, inevitably, they get angry and confrontational and say, “Why? That’s not very smart. We can make you a lot of money.” I tell them that business is great, and I don’t want to use their services, but thanks for calling. They say, “Then you’ll probably fail,” or “Everyone uses us and you should too,” or “You’re just throwing away money,” or some variation thereof. Again, I thank them for their concern and ask them not to call me anymore. They hang up (or I hang up on them at this point) and, inevitably, I get a call from them one week later, trying to shake me down again.

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I have nothing against these companies, and I bet they work like a dream for a lot of businesses, but mine’s not one of them. And yet every day they wear me down and wear me down and as much as I try not to hate them I think that if I met someone who worked for one of them at this point I probably could not resist smacking them in the face with a hot pan. I could just hang up on them, I suppose, but I guess I don’t have it in me to be rude like that on the phone. Seriously, if you work for one of these companies and you happen to read this, please let your people know that the more they call me the greater the chance is that I will eventually seek out an old witch to put a curse on them so that their tongues grow thick, furry mold so they can never talk on the telephone again.

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“Ooo…50% off full body waxes? I am so there!”

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Be Prepared!

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Last summer I went away on summer vacation and everything broke. It was like Dirt Candy was mad at me for leaving it alone, and so it took revenge by costing me thousands in repair bills and hundreds in therapy bills by completely imploding for three solid weeks after I returned.

 

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“I hate yoooooouuuu!!!!!”

 

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This summer, I’m not taking any chances. I bought all new equipment. Everything that broke last year has been replaced and I have back-ups for almost every single piece of equipment. My apartment looks like a restaurant supply store. I had the dishwasher looked at, sent the ice cream maker in for repair, bought back-up induction burners in case the burners go down, got a new juicer, there’s a new slicer on the way, I bought new pasta rollers and back-up pasta rollers. The only thing that hasn’t been repaired, replaced or has a replacement on standby is the oven. I’m expecting that to break any minute now.

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New People at Dirt Candy

The people who work at Dirt Candy mean a lot to me. My moods are like a rainbow – full of variety and surprises – and my employees weather them as best they can. But more important than navigating my moods is the fact that almost everyone who works here has been here since the beginning. So it makes me enormously sad that Kristen, my waiter, just moved on. She’s a dancer and does massage therapy and she just felt like it was time to go after two years, which I can totally understand. I want to go after two years!

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Kristen

Kristen got paid mostly in cakes.

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Kristen never should have been hired to work at Dirt Candy. When the restaurant was about to open back in 2008, I interviewed tons of people for the single server position I had. Kristen was great, but I had something like 180 people apply for the position, 35 of whom came in for an interview, and I wanted to do the right thing and let everyone who had not been hired know that I wasn’t giving them a job. There’s nothing worse than applying for a job, going for an interview and never hearing from them again until eventually you just have to assume they didn’t pick you.

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So in the middle of all the construction chaos I called Kristen and told her she was hired and to show up on Monday. Then I sent an email out to all the people who hadn’t been hired, telling them that I was sorry but it was me, not them, and it just wasn’t going to work out. One of those emails went to Kristen. Oops. From her point of view, she’d been told she had a job and then emailed a few hours later and told that I appreciated her time but that I wasn’t hiring her. She hit the roof and debated what to do for a long time and finally, fortunately, she sent me an angry email telling me how low I was to hire her and then fire her the same day on email, that this was deviant behavior and that she felt ill-used.

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Thank god. Because if she hadn’t sent that email I would have waited for her on Monday, she never would have shown up, and I would have assumed she was a flake and hired someone else. And what the past two years have shown me is that I couldn’t have opened this restaurant with someone else. I needed Kristen.

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Kristen travels in a cloud of calm, and she’s the reason that this dining room can be packed with people but never feel frantic. She remembers everyone’s birthday, she protects me (recently reading the riot act to my husband when he was bothering me on the phone during a really busy night) and Dirt Candy would not be Dirt Candy without her. I already miss her.

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However, sharing the job with Kristen for the past 9 months has been Diana, who now becomes the king of the waiters at Dirt Candy. If Kristen was the T-800 of waiters, Diana is the T-1000. She’s not as Zen as Kristen but she is spooky good. In the entire time she’s worked here (well over 100 nights) she has brought the wrong dish to a table exactly once. Running this dining room is like juggling chainsaws while smiling, and she does it in an off-handed way that makes it look easy. I’m constantly baffled by how she manages the most difficult and ridiculous situations without breaking a sweat. Seriously, try it. Come here late for your reservation, with two extra people, change your order three times, send your wine back and Diana will act like you’re being completely normal. And take it from me: you aren’t.

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Diana receiving a tribute of cupcakes.

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Like a fabulous prize on The Price is Right, being top waiter at Dirt Candy gets you dibs on Friday and Saturday nights, and you also get a washer/dryer and  trip to Tahiti. Now that Diana has symbolically killed her father (Kristen) and married her mother (become king of the waiters at Dirt Candy) I needed a spunky, young upstart to challenge her throne and work the other nights. It may be only a five-night-a-week job, but being the only waiter on the floor of a restaurant is really exhausting and the mental juggling act it requires will put you in the nut house fast if you aren’t sharing the job with someone.

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Finding a waiter who can handle Dirt Candy is like finding someone to marry your daughter: you want them to be perfect, and no one’s ever good enough. I had to hire and then release back into the wild a couple of people who were good waiters but just not the right fit, and now we’re trying to find someone who will work out over the long haul. So you may see a new face more and more over the upcoming weeks at Dirt Candy. Or, they may not work out and you may see a new face on a head mounted on a pike outside the restaurant. Either way, things are going to look different around here in the new year!

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This snowman just was not a good waiter.

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No more vacations

Like an evil hellspawn, or some sort of demonic child, Dirt Candy has made it clear to me that there will be no more vacations in my life. She has let me know that she hates my vacations, and that she feels neglected and abandoned when I take one, and therefore she will make my life miserable every time I come back.

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Dirt Candy – my little Hell Child.

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Two weeks ago I took seven days off. For three days I went to San Francisco, and then spent three days in the city on one of those newfangled stay-cations that all the fancy magazines are writing about. By the time I get to the end of the year I will have taken about 14 days of vacation for all of 2010, and these last seven days were my last vacation days between now and 2011. Didn’t matter. Dirt Candy was ticked off.

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Here’s the damage since I got back:

- Paco Jet broken ($1000 to repair)

- Induction Burner broken (sent back to company to be repaired, now using portable induction burners that are very lazy – waiting on the bill)

- Dishwasher stopped working (had to be repaired twice)

- Computer monitor broken ($120 to replace)

- Exhaust Fan broken (the belt snapped)

- Fryer clogged (expensive to clean lines)

- Freezer downstairs konked out (solution: install small A/C downstairs to keep its motor from melting again)

- Kitchen Aid Mixer died (replaced to the tune of over $200)

- Dehydrator fried (replaced, and it ain’t cheap)

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So, Dirt Candy, if you’re reading this blog about yourself, just know that I thought you’d like having time off but I was wrong. So no more vacations for me. Ever. Dirt Candy, you win.

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How do you feel about that?

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“Dirt Candy much happier now!”

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menu


Menu

Snack

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Jalapeno Hush Puppies $6
served with maple butter
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Appetizers

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Mushroom $13
portobello mousse, truffled toast
pear & fennel compote

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Cucumber $12
roasted cucumber hot and sour soup,
black sesame, garlic chili oil, wood ear
mushroom, cucumber jelly

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Tomato $13
tomato cake with smoked feta,
yellow tomato leather, herb puree

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Potato $12
warm potato salad, crispy Japanese
yams, grilled sweet potato, olives,
bitter greens, apples

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Entrees

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Beets $20
salt-roasted beets, thai green curry,
beet gnocchi, whipped coconut galangal cream

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Pepper $18
fennel & pepper tofu,
parsley spaetzle, grilled
yellow pepper broth,
mustard crumbs

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Broccoli $21
smoked broccoli dogs,
broccoli kraut, salt &
vinegar broccoli rabe

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Corn $19
stone ground grits, corn cream,
pickled shiitakes, huitlacoche,
tempura poached egg

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- everything on the menu can be made vegan on request.

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Dessert

Rosemary Eggplant Tiramisu $12
grilled eggplant, rosemary cotton
candy, mascarpone

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Ice Cream Nanaimo Bar$11
sweet pea, mint, chocolate

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Popcorn Pudding$11
salted caramel corn

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Celery Cheesecake Roll$10
celeriac ice cream, peanut filling,

& candied grapes

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- vegan dessert selection changes regularly, please ask your server.

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Our wine list (and other beverages)

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Gift Certificates

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