Dirt Candy is beet, doesn’t live up to the hype | East Villager & Lower East Sider

Dirt Candy is beet, doesn’t live up to the hype

Dirt Candy’s distinctive sign on Allen St.   Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic

Dirt Candy’s distinctive sign on Allen St. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC  | Expectations are funny.

This thought kept running through my head while eating at Dirt Candy, which recently reopened in February in a larger space at 86 Allen St.

I enlisted the help of two companions, my sister and a good friend, to dine with me after finally scoring a 5:30 p.m. slot on a Wednesday.

Chef Amanda Cohen is the woman behind Dirt Candy and she had lamented that every review of her previous smaller location on E. Ninth St. began with reservation woes. The new digs were supposed to ameliorate this, but I saw no evidence of that. It took months of seeing 10:30 p.m. slots on Open Table for me to call and secure the early dining time.

(Indeed, when we ran into my sister’s friend at the restaurant, the first thing she asked was how long it took us to get our reservation. Her answer: two months.)

On a warm spring day, other reservation holders and foodie hopefuls waited outside the restaurant, as the late-afternoon sunlight played on the restaurant’s bold sign. The eatery itself is a happy, beautiful spot — clean and modern white, with red banquettes that had plants and vegetation dancing above them.

The host was inviting — which cannot be said for all restaurants — and our server was friendly, attentive and answered all food queries informatively.

The meal started off well with complimentary bread, with colors like deep green and beet red. The bread was displayed like flowers in a pot — an irresistible bouquet, albeit slathered with delicious garlic butter, that was ready to be plucked and gobbled.

So far, so good — Dirt Candy has been praised up and down for its innovation.

The broccoli hot dog was underwhelming.   Photo by Meghan Louttit

The broccoli hot dog was underwhelming. Photo by Meghan Louttit

We tried to order as much as we could eat — and afford. This amounted to about a third of the menu. Next up were two dishes that were deemed snacks: the Korean fried broccoli and jalapeno hushpuppies. You always have me at spicy, but the puppies lacked any kick. They were filling, in that deep-breaded way. The fried broccoli seemed as if it was at war with itself, not meshing the vegetable with its outside flavors. This duo did not feel imaginative at all.

But there was more to come, so we bucked up and drank some crisp rosé. For our next course, we ordered a dish called spinach, described on the menu as “spinach mille-feuille with grapefruit ricotta and smoked pistachios.” It was presented beautifully, though just a tiny portion at $15. I was not a fan at all, and felt it was overwhelmed by bitterness, but my companions liked it better.

Last but not least, we had the Brussels sprout tacos — the photo you’re likely to see accompanying an article about the restaurant. Again, it got marks for presentation. But the taste… The tacos come with several condiments, such as salsa verde, pickled red onions, tortilla chips and jalapenos. I was prepared to love this dish, but just felt meh — I had had better Brussels sprouts elsewhere.

Along with the $30 tacos, we had broccoli, which, the menu explains, is “grilled and smoked broccoli dogs with broccoli kraut and mustard barbecue sauce.” That description may be a bit of a reach for broccoli on a bun. Ultimately, it was disappointing. The bun and mustard were good, but the star — the broccoli — lacked any burst of flavor.

We had the curried fries and they were smashing — I could have eaten another bowl.

Dirt Candy should have been my jam, but mostly I was let down. Had I expected too much? My sister and my friend also felt that the food lacked originality and that for a restaurant that only serves vegetables, the veggies did not shine. All three of us love vegetables and maybe that was the problem — maybe the restaurant is for people who don’t eat or like vegetables, who need them hidden.