Vegetarians are supposed to be a sensitive, retiring bunch, but everything about Amanda Cohen’s brassy new reboot of her seminal veggie establishment, Dirt Candy, screams out for attention. There’s the glittery sequined signage on the Allen Street façade, which reminded one of my guests of something you might see above a popular souvenir store at the mouth of a well-traveled national park. There’s the Vegas-like color scheme, which includes chairs covered in white faux leather and a red banquette along the walls. There’s the great Cheesecake Factory–size menu, which lists each dish in a different big-letter font and contains all sorts of dizzying information on the back, including how many cases of broccoli are used weekly at the restaurant (16) and how many “consultants” were employed in launching it (nine).
Some veggie formulations feel more overworked than others, but after much public hand-wringing on Cohen’s part, the consultants seem to have more or less done their jobs. I didn’t mind the swampy green kale matzo-ball soup (spiked with okra and galangal), or the semi-spicy mapo eggplant, or even the brightly colored monkey bread, served, for extra effect, in a small flowerpot. I won’t be reordering the $28 “corn boil” (which requires you to eat a lot of slippery roughage wearing a plastic bib), but Cohen’s famous tomato cake with smoked feta is almost worth a special trip. The cocktail list is refreshingly unpretentious for a potentially pretentious vegetarian restaurant (and, at $13 for your Dark and Stormy, refreshingly priced), and, with some exceptions, so are the desserts, in particular the carrot pie, which is capped with a twirling meringue top and tastes a little like oranges if you eat it with your eyes shut.