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You don’t get much hipper than Dirt Candy on the Lower East Side. It's shoebox-sized, brand new and vegetarian. And then there's the name, which seems simultaneously evocative and confusing. (A friend I’d invited to dinner kept calling the place Dirty Candy.)
I was impressed the second our first courses arrived. Chef and owner, Amanda Cohen, formerly of Manhattan's raw foods restaurant Pure Food and Wine, is super creative with her fruits and vegetables and the dishes are beautifully plated and colorful. There’s no meat, and it doesn’t matter.
I love Greek salad, so I ordered Dirt Candy’s, a fabulous combination of chopped tomato and cucumber, lots of parsley, oregano and dill, Greek feta, Sicilian pistachios and a tangy preserved lemon mayonnaise—topped with towering rings of fried Trumpet Royale mushrooms. I wondered how Cohen makes these delectable crunchy mushroom-donuts that provided heft and fatty-goodness. The rings, I learned, are nothing more than Trumpet mushrooms with the center cut out via a pastry ring, panko-breaded and thrown in the fryer.
The Mixed Greens with Grilled Cheese Croutons and Garlic Vinaigrette were dressed up with my second favorite item: grapefruit lollipops. Cohen says that making the pops is like candying apples. She melts sugar then dips in the speared segments and lets them dry. The boiled syrup forms the thinnest, shiny-clear crust around the juicy fruit, and it's kind of like eating a cherry cordial.
I left Dirt Candy full, satisfied and intrigued by Cohen’s playful and delicious take on vegetarian food. And thinking of ways to serve the fried Trumpet mushrooms at home. (Perhaps with the preserved lemon mayonnaise for dipping).