"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dirt Candy - December 22, 2010

I confess: I am a queue mania. When there is a line forming (a rare sight in North America somehow – not enough good restaurants or not enough enthusiasm?), I lose control of my faculties and better judgments and end up at the end of the queue, quite involuntarily, I must add. Even in the virtual world that we live in these days, there is not escape for a queue mania. Whenever the apologetic little window pops up on Opentable.com informing me that there were no tables available in any of the days or times I have grudgingly offered as substitutes, I take it personally and, very badly, at best: There is a queue and I am not getting what they are getting. A capricious clicking then becomes an obsessive stalking – Operation Outsmarting Opentable.com. Dirt Candy had become one of the hardest tables to snatch, so snatching I had to do. (The poor quality of photographs is not due to my lack of skill, although truly wanting, but because of the eerie lighting of the restaurant.)

Carrot – steamed barbecue carrot buns, cucumber & sesame ginger salad

People are attracted by the good and, counter-intuitively, also the bad: For example, people watch horror movies and ride roller coasters. Is it because of the thrill? If so, it was the thrill of the unknown that drew me to the steamed carrot buns. Carrots in steamed buns were not something that would occur to a lesser vegetarian brain; therefore, not my brain. Despite my zealous wish to try the dish, my tongue prepared itself for a verbal attack. After all, I was going to find carrots – the sweet orange root vegetables – and not minced barbecue pork in my buns.

The three carrot buns were colored by vegetable juice into varying pastel shades of yellow, pink and white (I assumed no coloring here, but you never know because there are things such as white strawberries – yes, they really are, and they have red seeds). Usually, my taste buds work quite efficiently and expediently and categorize the food into the edible and the avoidable in a matter of seconds – quite competitive against any available processors. However, in this case, my taste buds froze; they did not know what to make of these cute little buns. The first bite revealed sweet roasted carrots, diced, and minimally seasoned, which did not taste of barbecue. The second bite surprised me with the depth of the savory browned sweetness from the roasted carrots. The third bite confirmed that the dough was surprisingly well-made – fluffy and slightly springy at the same time. As the buns disappeared bite by bite, the carrots and the dough became more and more likable, if not lovable. The accompanying salad of delicately shredded daikon and cucumbers, sprinkled with sweet crumbs of sesame seeds and dressed lightly with ginger, was delightfully light and offered a contrasting tactile enjoyment in the mouth. By this time, my taste buds were finally working again and furiously so. The taste, color and texture of these carrot buns reminded me of my favorite Chinese roast pork buns. Wouldn’t it be interesting if I really marinated the carrots in 紅麹 – the red fermented rice paste – and other spices just like roast pork?

Celery – king oyster mushrooms, celery, pesto, grilled grapes, and cheese curds

Crunchy celery slices and king oyster mushrooms was a bright and light warm salad. The restaurant varied the texture of celery by chopping some and sprinkled them on the plate as a garnish. The fried cheese curds, however, were a disappointment as they possessed none of the delightful properties of fresh cheese curds – offering neither texture nor flavor. As for the grilled grapes, they must have never left their cradle to make way over to my plate; if there were, the grapes did not contribute enough to the dish to warrant the trouble of grilling them.

Zucchini – mint & tarragon pasta, squash blossom, relish, yogurt & saffron sauce

The creative intention was admirable; nevertheless, the execution had failed. Done in a Middle-Eastern style with purple falafel balls and tzatziki, the taste was unpleasantly and excessively sour perhaps due to the over-abundance of lemon in the sauce. Regrettable, really, because the purple falafel balls exceeded my expectations; the nuttiness of the chick peas was balanced by deft use of spices. The pasta itself was handmade but too soft; therefore, they were more like a type of Chinese handmade noodles, rather than Italian fettucini.

Corn – stone ground grits, corn cream, pickled shiitakes, huitlacoche, tempura poached egg

The grits, despite its simple and casual description on the menu, hid multiple layers of flavors: the fragrant herbs, the creamy corn, the spicy huitlacoche mushroom pesto, the grassy microgreens and the tempura egg. The soft-boiled egg was dusted with panko and flash-fried into an orb of pure gooey delight: My knife shuddered as it cut into the crispy crust in anticipation of the golden yolk erupting over the grits – What a beautiful sight. The huitlacoche mushroom was black and pureed to provide a mildly spicy taste to the grits, which were a lovely match for the creaminess and sweetness of the corn. This was not my first time to eat this Mexican “truffle,” but it was my first time to have actually tasted the truffle. The chopped herbs accentuated the dish as well. All in all, it was a laudatory presentation of varying tones of textures and strata of flavors.

Popcorn pudding, salted caramel corn

More in the texture of a rice pudding rather than a crème caramel or flan, the pudding contained the corn flavor neatly in a ramkin. Topped with dainty cream and served with brittle caramel corn, the pudding was a satisfying, if average, end to an educational meal.

The dinner started off with truly awful bread - focaccia - with insipid olive oil.

Dirt Candy
Address:  430 East 9th Street, NY, NY 10009
Phone: 212.228.7732

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