How this vegetarian restaurant changed New York dining
From inventive vegan and vegetarian food to a drinks list focused on female winemakers and a no-tipping policy, this award-winning chef does it differently.
Words by Ute Junker
Amanda Cohen is a chef with attitude. You can see it on her wine list, which features exclusively female winemakers. You can see it in her no-tipping policy; she was the first NYC chef to eliminate tips in favour of a service charge to ensure that all her staff, from kitchen hands to wait staff, got paid fairly. You can even see it in her cookbook, published in the form of a graphic novel.
And, of course, you can see it in her food. When Dirt Candy opened in 2008, it was the first New York restaurant to focus on vegetables. A decade on, plant-based dining has become mainstream, and Dirt Candy’s vegetarian and vegan menus have scored endless plaudits, from Michelin stars to a nomination as one of the 10 restaurants that changed America.
Our evening started with some hard decisions. Seats at the bar or at the table? (At the bar; better view of the open kitchen.) Five-course or seven-course menu? (Five – it was a Monday night, after all.) Wine or one of the veggie-based drinks: perhaps a beet cooler or a celery spritz? (The wine. Of course.)
After that, it’s all about the food. Cohen cheerfully draws inspiration from right around the world. The Portobello mushroom mousse, teamed with grilled and dehydrated peaches and truffle toast, delivers a knock-out umami punch. The Korean-fried broccoli is ridiculously more-ish. Don’t peak too early, though: you want to save room for the brussels sprouts tacos, delivered on a sizzling stone, are a highlight.
Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, desserts are a must-try, if for no other reason than that they will expand your culinary horizons. After all, it’s not every day that you get to try a cauliflower cake, is it?
THE VERDICT A delightful, dizzying trip into the unexpected – and the service is superb.
86 Allen Street, NY