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Cooking at the White House

The Daily News asks Dirt Candy what we’d cook to show off the White House’s vegetable garden. I love the idea of a White House vegetable garden. See, the Obamas know that they need to grow their own crops because by the end of next year we’re all going to be killing each other over bags of flour and bottles of clean water. They’re getting off the grid ASAP!

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Read the full article.


Choice Eats on Tuesday

We’re all super-excited to be participating in the Village Voice’s Choice Eats event this Tuesday night. First off, we’re excited to be able to close the restaurant on a Tuesday! It’s like a field trip. Second, we’re excited because we were invited to participate alongside restaurants like Fatty Crab, Momofuku Milk Bar and Kuma Inn. Kuma Inn was one of the places that inspired me to open Dirt Candy: a small restaurant presided over by a very hands-on chef/owner (the awesomely named King Phojanakong) in a strange location (second floor of a building). I figured if he could make a restaurant on the second floor work, I could make Dirt Candy work.

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All of us – myself, Kristen (server), Jesus (sous chef) and Danielle (daytime prep) – are going to be at our booth (#24) at the 69th Armory (on Lexington Ave. between 25th and 26th streets) serving up portobello mousse all night long. The Voice has done beer pairings and we’ve been assigned Victory Prima Pils. The fun starts at 6:30pm and ends at 9:30pm and Dirt Candy itself will be closed for the evening. The event is sold out, but maybe you can still walk up and get in? Not sure, but those with the ninja abilities to run up walls and dive through windows stand the best chance of attending at this point.


Beet Pasta is here!

Ladies and gentlemen, it has been a long time coming but – and I can hardly believe it myself – we have gas. Five months late, and many tens of thousands of dollars later, it’s here and we are no longer cooking on electric appliances but using real, professional equipment. Check this out to see how we’ve been cooking up until now and while it hasn’t been insurmountable it’s been tough on all of us in the kitchen. Gas appliances can cook in the volume we need, with an intensity of heat that we need, and they give us a lot more flexibility.

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This is us getting a gas

line put in.

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Seriously, these really are

pictures of the work.

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And this was barely the beginning.

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Now that this comedy of (expensive) errors is concluded we’re a veritable volcano of gas heat so it’s time to start playing. My sous chef and I get bored easily and so we’re starting to put new dishes on the menu and we’re changing things up in a manner so fast and subtle that we look like three card monte dealers. As of tonight, we’re taking the divisive papardelle off the menu and adding Golden Beet Papardelle with Yogurt, Pistachios and Honey.

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This is how I’ve always wanted beet pasta to taste. The pasta is made fresh, and the dough is mixed with beet juice instead of water. It’s full of roasted candy stripe beets, golden beets and roasted red beets with tarragon. We serve it with a pesto made of beet greens and pistachios and the whole thing is drizzled with beet-infused honey and a sauce made of yogurt and goat cheese (and yes, there is a vegan version available but it may not be ready this first night. We’ll let you know the second it’s ready to go). It’s topped with beet and parmesan crisps. We’re trying to bring out the sweetness and the earthiness of beets so that you wind up with a perfectly balanced dish. Pictures will be up before you know it, and this is just the beginning. Spring is coming and that means a lot more menu changes are coming your way.

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Reviews Reviewed: the New York Times

First off, I just want to deliver an important message to Oliver Schwaner-Albright, the fellow who wrote the mini-review of Dirt Candy in the New York Times this past Wednesday: you’re not ugly, but you may want to get new friends. Here you are, presumably paying for dinner, and you write in your review that your friend gets a little tipsy on Pete’s Organic beer and turns to you and says, “You don’t look so hot.” You can blame the lighting, but Dirt Candy blasts the dining room with amber light so that a) you can see your food and b) you look your best. Hitting someone hard with amber or pink light is known as the “drag queen’s face lift” because the amber gives you a golden glow and the pink gives you a rosy blush both of which remove wrinkles and make you look ten years younger. Plus, I’d say on a scale of 1 to 10 I’d definitely give you at least an 8 and probably a 9, and so I think your dining companion really crossed the line with their comment. It’s things like this that cause low self-esteem!

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The New York Times is the Godzilla of restaurant reviewers. Although they don’t wield as much power as they once did, they can drive crowds to a restaurant by giving it stars and  they can drive a chef to despair by taking stars away. In the past, their Dining Briefs were the first, rough assessment of a restaurant before it got its full-length review, an early warning shot fired over the bow that told a place what they were doing right, and what needed to be fixed, before the reviewer weighed in and passed official New York Times Judgment. These days there’s no longer that close connection between the Dining Briefs and the official reviews, but it’s still nice to be noticed.

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The Return of the Menu Box

A couple of months ago our menu box was attacked and destroyed by ignorant miscreants with no respect for human life or property. But little did they know that their vandalism would be met…with a vengeance. We took the pieces of our menu box to a government lab where we were told that they could rebuild the menu box. They had the technology. They had the capability to build a menu box better than it was before. Better. Stronger Faster. And so, this Wednesday,  the night witnessed the unveiling of…Menu Box 2.0.

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Like a beacon of hope in the

darkness of the night.

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And in the East Village there was much fear and trembling.


Reviewing the New York Times

It’s been a crazy week, but check back on Friday to read the post reviewing the short review Dirt Candy got in the New York Times this Wednesday.

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You can read the review-lette here.

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By the way, out of curiosity, what do you think of it? Is it good? Is it bad? Is there a slight patronizing tone wafting through it, or is that just my imagination? I mean, it’s nice to be reviewed by the New York Times and all, but still… Maybe I’m just exhausted from working all the time? Please, gentle readers, set me straight by sending your thoughts on the mini-review to info at dirtcandynyc dot com.

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UPDATE: It wasn’t until I saw the print edition of the paper that I learned how to get a rave from the New York Times: I either need to be a chain restaurant or I need a giant bee mascot. Yes, I was paired in “Dining Briefs” with a review of Filipino chain restaurant Jollibee (627 outlets and counting).


Mushroom cruelty

A favorite question interviewers like to ask is, “What is your restaurant’s signature dish?” Although a few would say it’s the grits, and a lot of people would say it’s the hush puppies, there’s no argument in my mind as to what dish best represents Dirt Candy: the portobello mushroom mousse. I made a version of this dish when I was at Heirloom but I always felt like it was hitting near the target but not dead in the center. The portobello mousse we’re serving here absolutely hits the bull’s eye in terms of what I want it to be. Three people I know who hate mushrooms have ordered it and raved about how good it is, including one nine-year-old girl who claimed to despise even the sight of mushrooms and then ate almost all of her mother’s mousse. It’s the dish we make that always surprises people, and the one that lots of committed carnivores love because it delivers a rich taste that they don’t normally associate with vegetarian food.

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Mushrooms can be silky little creatures when they’re prepared the right way. Earthy, rich, dense and smooth they have a meatiness to them, a heft and a nice chew that’s hard to find in other vegetables. Potatoes can have that same smooth, dense feel but they come with a starchiness, whereas mushrooms land on your tongue as graceful as butterflies, rich and chewy but without any hangover.

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Portobello mushrooms are one of those vegetables that got too much exposure, too fast, the star of numerous soggy sandwiches and lifeless grilled vegetable plates in the 90′s. They’re the Mickey Rourke of the mushroom world: a truly fantastic vegetable that got too much attention, too soon, so that their wonderfulness was buried beneath a mountain of bad career choices and burdened with lots of baggage after decades of misuse. But if you leave behind the woeful associations, the humble portobello still packs a smooth, rich mouth feel unlike any other fungus out there and so it’s front and center in the portobello mousse.

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“I am a portobello mushroom.”

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The dish itself consists of a cube of the mousse, some thinly sliced grilled portobellos, a scoop of pear and fennel compote and little bits of truffle toast. After watching some folks struggle with their knives and forks (heartbreaking) we now recommend that people spread the mousse on the toast, top it with the grilled portobellos, add a bit of the compote for some sweetness, then stuff the whole thing in their mouth. Lots of people have asked how we make the mousse and I’ll tell you the ugly secret: in the basement of Dirt Candy we have mushrooms penned up and every day we force feed them until they’re swollen and dripping with deliciousness. Some people say this is mushroom cruelty, but to be honest I think the mushrooms like it.

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PETA is running a competition this year for a foie gras substitute, and the Village Voice spontaneously nominated our portobello mousse for consideration, writing that it is “…rich, earthy and intense, with a silky texture reminiscent of foie gras.” I’ve never had foie gras but my husband has and to him the texture was compelling: cool, smooth and luxurious, like having the inside of your mouth carpeted with cashmere. The taste? According to him, it’s kind of like a greasier version of portobello mushrooms. So while the portobello mousse isn’t some kind of “faux gras” it’s a dish that was created to deliver that same smooth, dense texture along with the rich earthy taste of mushrooms. Eating it should make you feel like a truffle pig, snout-deep in mushroom nirvana. And, yes, there is a vegan version and, yes, I have twice run out of the dairy portobello mousse and served the vegan version to unsuspecting diners (including one who’d had it before) and they never noticed the difference.

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Women’s Education Project

I’ve been a chef for a long time and while the press is plenty sexist in the way it covers chefs, especially in New York, I’ve been lucky enough to rarely encounter much discrimination in the workplace. There have been some jackasses, true, but they’re the exception and not the rule.

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Unfortunately, that’s not the case everywhere, and so I’m jumping in the pool with a bunch of other female-owned and operated restaurants like Annisa (Anita Lo), I Trulli (Patti Jackson) and Suenos (Sue Torres) to devote part of this weekend to supporting the Women’s Education Project. The WEP is a very small non-profit (their annual budget is under $100,000) that runs two centers in Southern India where women living in poverty can attend career workshops, educational programs, college prep classes, and get financial aid to go on to college. They do practical things like train them in Photoshop and Corel so they can become graphic designers, teach them what resources are available to them for further aid, place them in hospital administration internships, take them to visit local businesses run by women to see what options are open to them  and they learn how to take college entrance exams. And it works. Of the fifty women in the Sudar school down in Tamilnadu, 30 received local college scholarships while the other 20 are new students who just started the program.

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On Friday, March 6, and Saturday, March 7, when you eat at Dirt Candy you’ll have a chance to make a donation to the Women’s Education Project at the end of your meal. We’d love it if you donated cash, since that’s the easiest thing to process and it makes life simpler for us, but if you really want to be a high roller you can put the donation on your credit card.

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The Women’s Education Project is not changing the entire world, but it’s changing the lives of women in India, a few at a time. A lot of them are women who dropped out of school to help support their families with dead-end, low-paying jobs, and now they’re stuck. The Women’s Education Project is giving them a chance to get out of that trap and achieve something better. Your support won’t go to a bunch of administrative BS, but instead it will have an immediate, real world impact on women who need someone to give them a break.

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Anitha, a student at the WEP’s Ushassu center, and her mother.

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Animal Experimentation

The debate on organic food goes on. Is it worth the extra price? Will it make you healthier? Is it all just a marketing ploy? In these tough economic times these questions are so important that they can only be decided by a hamster.

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Cook’s Den ran an experiment on Hammy the Hamster, seeing whether he/she would choose between conventionally grown food or organic food in a series of tests. This being 2009, the experiment would have no value if it wasn’t posted on the internet as an adorable online video.

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Go to Cook’s Den for the results.


What is Dirt Candy?

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(scroll down for new blog posts)

What is dirt candy? Vegetables, of course. When you eat a vegetable you’re eating little more than dirt that’s been transformed by plenty of sunshine and rain into something that’s full of flavor: Dirt Candy. It’s also the name of my restaurant, which opened in October, 2008.

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Read the rest of this entry »



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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Spinach $13
spinach & grapefruit mille-feuille,
with smoked pistachios and ricotta

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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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