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Dirt Candy

As much as I love me some Little Lad’s, there are occasions that require vegetarian food that's a step or two above homespun cafeteria fare. Tiny Dirt Candy with its half-cute/half-unappetizing name (I much prefer the concept of dirt candy over nature's candy, which is an exceedingly lame euphemism for fruit. I'm not crazy about 85% of fruit, though, so I'm biased) seemed like a better place for a birthday dinner than say, Angelica's Kitchen. That’s too much earthiness for me, and I'm an Oregonian. So is Jessica, the dining companion who had turned another year older, now that I think about it. No brown rice or sprouts will be allowed on my dime, no way.

Dirt candy portobello mousse

I felt compelled to try the signature-ish portobello mousse appetizer. At first glance you kind of think the plating is fun, then if you scrutinize each component they start to become eerie. The floppy tangle of sliced mushrooms looks very fleshy like indeterminate offal. I'm an organ-loving carnivore so this wasn’t a detriment. The block of mousse is so perfect and reflective that you have to resist the urge to smash it down with a fork and mess up the geometry. We decided it would be a cruel joke to tell a kid this whipped mushroom cube was chocolate (less cruel than trying to pawn off fruit as nature's candy, though) and watch them bite into it.

Fungus rendered rich and creamy and topped with a few chewy ribbons of mushroom worked well together on toast. A pear compote might seem too sweet for those two but the addition of fennel lent just enough savory contrast.

Dirt candy onion soup

Onion Soup with farmhouse cheddar and kumquat marmalade looks very hearty for a brothy soup but I did not try this.

Dirt candy crispy tofu with green ragout

Crispy tofu with green ragout and kaffir lime beurre blanc would've been my entrée choice on paper. I think it was the lime and butter that grabbed me more than the bean curd. But it was Jessica's birthday and this was her pick. I don't like to order the same thing as someone else at a table unless it's a burger, bbq or similar singular item.

Dirt candy stone ground grits

Based on the menu description I’m looking at now there were pickled shitakes in this but I don't recall tasting those at all. I'm certain huitlacoche was mentioned when the dish was presented to me. Maybe there was a shift in fungus. I love the musky, dirty flavor of huitlacoche and the ingredient makes perfect sense with thick corn-speckled grits and what seemed like (I have a problem remembering verbal descriptions—if I don't see something written down I forget it) a crumbly, salty queso fresco. The lightly battered, fried egg made the dish, though.

I'm swayed by the charms of a liquid yolk. Though if I'm correct, it was the egg that turned Jessica off of this dish. I'm not sure if she's creeped out by the yolk, the possibility of runny whites or something else altogether. A fried egg makes everything better, if you ask me.

I semi-randomly chose a bottle of Thurnhoff Goldmuskateller 2007 from the small wine list because I wanted a white and this sounded vaguely German and austere. It turned out to be Italian from Alto Adige, and very crisp apple-like with just a little sweetness and power.  I must've been tipsier than I realized (I blame the pre-dinner gin and tonic minutes after having two vials of blood drawn) because these photos that I edited right after getting home are a bit more washed out than usual. Even in the best of circumstances my eye for color and contrast could use help.

Dirt candy popcorn pudding

Normally, I'm indifferent to pudding and popcorn but served together plus caramel and hazelnuts, grabbed my attention. The smooth and crunchy, salty and sweet was irresistible. Last weekend when I mentioned (I can’t bring myself to say twittered or tweeted) Van Leeuwen’s hazelnut gelato being bland, I didn't meant to imply it was bad but merely too pure and subtle for my taste. I like desserts where a lot is happening.

Dirt Candy * 430 E. Ninth St., New York, NY

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