Let Us Eat Local

Dirt Candy is going to be closed on Wednesday, September 21 because we're participating in the annual Let Us Eat Local charity event. This year it's going to be at the Altman Building at 135 West 18th Street, and tickets are still available. We'll be there along with folks from ABC Kitchen, Blue Hill, The Spotted Pig and Gramercy Tavern, doing our part to support New York City's local farms and farmers.


As much as I like to experiment at Dirt Candy, there are some things I've learned that people prefer and I need to deliver them or I'm going to wind up with unhappy customers, and that stinks because then I have to hunt them down and kill them before they can post anything on Yelp. One thing I've learned is that people like their pasta creamy. That doesn't mean that I have to use actual cream, but people seem to want comfort and richness from their pasta dishes, not wild experimentation and astringent flavors. I've had a few pastas that used broths as their sauce or that used deconstructed sauces, and while those dishes had fans the pastas that pleased the crowd always had richer, more luscious sauces.


The other lesson I've learned? As much as I love making the complex, layered broths I've been using for a lot of the recent soups here (like the butternut squash soup and the pea soup), the soups that find wider favor are the purees. The broths have cult followings, but it's the thicker purees that please a greater number of palates. With that in mind, I needed a summer soup but I'll be damned if I'm going to put yet another iteration of gazpacho on my menu. It's a great soup, but it's too easy to go for gazpacho when the temperature climbs. What else do people like eating when it's hot? Spicy food. And what's the spiciest food of all? Peppers. So behold: Pepper Soup!

The Yellow Pepper Soup with Smoky Red Pepper Mousse, Orange Pepper Jam and Jalapeno Pepper Chips was one of the few dishes that required no failure or deep experimentation. This one practically leapt from my fevered brow as is. Except for the Red Pepper Velvet Cake I hadn't used peppers much here at all and I wanted to use all the different kinds of peppers at once to make up for lost time. While bell peppers come in a bunch of different colors, their tastes aren't dramatically different from each other (except for green peppers), so to bring out their unique qualities I decided to concentrate on their colors. Instantly, I realized that red peppers would have to be smoked, orange peppers would have to be a jam (like orange marmalade), jalapeno peppers would need to come as chips, and yellow peppers would have to be the big, welcoming splash of sunshine that would provide the background for all the other colors.

There's a smear of orange pepper jam on the bottom of the plate and then the smoked red pepper mousse which is sort of my homage to smoked paprika, also made of smoked red peppers. It's a luscious little pyramid of intense peppery taste, cooled by the smooth smokiness of the mousse.

And these are the fried jalapeno chips...

Because it's summer, this soup needs to be cooling. Spicy foods are always welcome in the summer months, and while I serve this soup hot, during that heat wave a month ago I was serving it cold and people were gulping down big bowls of it. The spice level is low, but just enough to wake up your tongue and give you that welcome prickle of heat in your mouth. I also wanted to deliver that cool, crisp, crunchy pepper texture and so I decided to top the soup with raw peppers. This is by far the hardest component of this dish to make, the Brunoise of Peppers. It's the tiniest, most precise dice you'll find anywhere at Dirt Candy, and maybe even for miles around. On top of that, to make it taste right, I have to peel the outside and the inside of all the peppers. All of us had to hone our knife skills until we were like samurai, peeling the pepper skin and chopping peppers as precisely as lasers.

And that's the quixotic, hopeless Dirt Candy way: we spend an enormous amount of time and attention on a garnish to this dish that is just one small detail that most people eat without even noticing!



The Great Non-Hurricane of 2011

So after all the hype, and phone calls asking if I was okay, and the emergency closing of Dirt Candy on Saturday night, Hurricane Irene struck New York City and, well, pictures speak louder than words. What follows is an actual photo of the devastation wrought by Irene on Dirt Candy. WARNING: it is not for the faint at heart....

As of Sunday afternoon, it was beautiful and sunny out, and the Saturday night/Sunday morning storm, at least in Manhattan, turned out to be some wind and rain. We had worse a few weeks ago when that big rain storm hit the city for a week.

Here're the preparations I made: wrapping plastic bags around the basement hatch so it wouldn't leak, and sealing up the crack at the bottom of the door so water didn't go in the restaurant. Around 9AM Sunday I strolled down to Dirt Candy (with no umbrella, because by that point it wasn't really even raining) to check on everything and there were no problems besides, of course, that first photo of devastation.

We're All Going to Die!!!!

I just want to let people know that Dirt Candy will be closed tonight (Saturday, August 27). Frankly, I'd rather be open and let the people who want to go out, come out. Also, I don't think it's ultimately going to be that bad and that this may all wind up being 60% panic and 40% real weather conditions. However, ultimately it's not my choice. I have employees who live way out in Brooklyn and the Bronx and not only is public transport shut down, but all car services are either booked up (and the ones that are open sound a bit deranged) or not taking reservations. Which means that while my employees may be able to get here, I can't guarantee that I'll be able to get them home tonight around midnight. And I can't, in good conscience, ask them to walk.

"Back in my day, we would have walked home! Ten miles uphill! In 150 mph winds! No questions asked!"

I hope everyone understands. And thanks for being patient with us. New York City is in total panic mode right now.