I have to admit I’ve always felt weirdly close (because we’re not actually close—at all) to Chef Amanda Cohen. She’s the genius behind Dirt Candy, a vegetarian restaurant in the East Village that has often felt like a custom-made gift to me, a food-loving (but brown rice indifferent) vegetarian. She’s given me a place to take my food-loving but non-vegetarian friends and family, a place where I can hold my head high and show that you don’t have to give up anything when you give up meat. Crispy tofu, represent!
Also, we share a name, and she usually acknowledges this with a little smiling nod when I check in for my reservation (Dirt Candy is a strictly reservations kinda joint, with fewer than 10 tables).
She’s Canadian too, and I’m married to a Canadian—the inclusion of an upscale mint, sweet pea, and chocolate Nanaimo bar on the dessert menu is like secret code from the underground: Canucks ‘r’ Us. I had never heard of the Nanaimo bar until husband and I were preparing for Canadian Thanksgiving (yes, they have their own, on a totally different day, in October) a few years ago and he suggested we make some to go with the poutine and tortiere that were the only other specifically Canadian dishes he could think of. Some day I hope to see poutine on the Dirt Candy menu: Cohen’s already got cheese curds (deep fried!) on the menu, as part of her celery salad… all she needs are some fries and gravy.
But my favorite favorite thing about Amanda Cohen, also attributable to her Canadianess (or so says the aforementioned husband) is her funny funny blog. Entries describing the staff meals at Dirt Candy (“family meals” for you present and former restaurant workers) alternate with descriptions of the development of dishes on her menu, food events attended, and random bits of improvisation like this one, “My Pop-ups RULE, Your Pop-Ups Drool” which had me in tears (of laughter) earlier today (I was just double-checking the menu to better plan my order for my birthday dinner later this week.)
In the past month I’ve launched so many pop-ups I can’t even count them anymore [...] My personal favorite [is] The Commodore Beckwith, located inside the 2nd floor bathroom of the Union Square Barnes and Noble. The Commodore Beckwith almost had a customer but it turned out that what my floor team thought was a party of one was actually just a man looking for a place where he could stick newspapers down his pants.
I’ve opened a pop-up inside another pop-up (SLX350, a credit-card only, micro-financed, micro-pub with a Mediterranean influence), I’ve popped-up and popped-down so quickly that sometimes my pop-ups bend time and space around them and exist only inside a single moment of crystalized time (Sha-Bam, a cash-only, reverse amuse bouche lettuce atelier). Last Friday, a customer was leaving Dirt Candy and they said to me, “I really enjoyed my dinner at Dirt Candy,” and I thought to myself, “Fool, you have no idea that you were not eating in Dirt Candy but in The What What Hut, a one hour pop-up concept serving Dirt Candy food with a deconstructed twist.”
Cohen’s also apparently working on a Dirt Candy Cookbook, due out next year, and if it’s anything like her website, well, it’s gonna rule.
SEE YOU AT THE WHAT WHAT HUT.