Brooklyn-based sisters Anna and Naomi Otsu created We8that, a collection of illustrated restaurant reviews, in an effort to spend more time together and bond over food. Each has a distinct role: Anna writes, while Naomi draws dishes from their favorite destinations. Their efforts have resulted in exciting collaborations with notable places, including the highly acclaimed Japanese ramen restaurant Ippudo and online accessory shop Pintrill. The two recently dropped by vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy on New York’s Lower East Side to offer UNDO an exclusive review.
The vegetarian food scene in New York City has seen an exponential growth in the past few years. According to tech company First Data, vegetarian restaurants grew by 21.2 percent in 2014, topping the list of fastest-growing restaurant types of the year. Last year, it remained among the top five and grew by 19 percent. Amanda Cohen, the face behind the renowned restaurant Dirt Candy, was one of the first to open a vegetable-focused eatery in the city, and the vegan and vegetarian communities have embraced it ever since its inception in 2008. Her restaurant has won multiple awards, including a recognition in the Michelin Guide for five consecutive years. In a 2012 review, the New York Times praised her culinary creativity, concluding, “Ms. Cohen is not adapting the vegetarian cuisine of some other culture. She is inventing her own.”
Unlike strictly vegan restaurants, Dirt Candy takes an open approach by combining vegan and vegetarian options while offering a plant-based fine-dining experience. It’s not hard to miss the restaurant with its glittery black and pink sign. We dropped by for brunch on a Saturday afternoon and were seated by big floor-to-ceiling windows. Cast in soft but luxurious lighting, the predominately white interior presented a fresh and clean dining environment.
Although we were the first ones to arrive, the place quickly filled up with hungry patrons. A poster-sized menu offered a variety of options—from a pastry platter and sandwiches to huevos rancheros and crunchy fritters. We went with a plate of Zucchini Pancakes ($13), Spinach Ramen Salad ($16), and Red Pepper Fritters ($8). The pancakes—an absolute dream of fluffy patties drizzled with sweet maple syrup—were our favorite. The thinly sliced strips of zucchini were nicely textured, and a dollop of squash blossom butter with hints of cinnamon rounded the dish off with a pleasant creaminess. The Spinach Ramen Salad was slightly on the acidic side, but the crispy smoked mushrooms and pickled eggs were a nice touch. The Red Pepper Fritters—little crunchy doughnut balls filled with sweet paprika jam—tasted somewhere between the realm of sweet and savory but paired perfectly with a side of coffee.
As we tried each plate, neighboring diners exclaimed with delight at how delicious and lovely their meals looked and tasted. The excitement was enough proof that Dirt Candy shatters the stereotype that vegetarian and vegan food can be bland or disappointing. It definitely left us eager to try more. Left image features Dirty Candy’s Zucchini Pancakes. Dirty Candy is located at 86 Allen Street in the Lower East Side of New York. For the latest restaurant reviews from the Otsu sisters, follow them on Instagram (@we8that) or visit www.we8that.com
Writer: Anna Otsu
Illustrator: Naomi Otsu