Dirt Candy leaves a dirty taste in my mouth

It’s always a terrible feeling to leave a restaurant hungry and irritated, but believe it or not, it’s not something I plan for. Restaurants, by my unofficial definition, should leave its patrons feeling at least one of three things (the more of these things, the better):

1) Satiated

2) Accommodated

3) Wanting to visit again to try other dishes.

I thought I would be hitting all three of these three personal tenets of mine when I paid Dirt Candy a visit. According to positive hearsay and endless golden-flecked press reviews, this was the toast of vegetarian town, a place that could simply do no wrong with its tiny, artfully styled verdant entrees, rosy mood lighting and simplistic, purposely sparse menu.

Underneath each of the wildly overpriced four menu choices per category (appetizers, entrees and desserts) are even simpler, comma-separated descriptors like “smoked parnips, truffled mushrooms and wallet-draining candied walnuts (no, those aren’t actually real items on their menu, but the last one ought to be),” giving the place a semblance of both modern sophisticate and humble exclusivity. What’s more, the dining area is barely the size of two halal carts end to end, which is probably another deliberate design choice… the place is notorious for being booked week after week, no doubt due to the fact that it can only seat about 14 people at a time. Our waitress even had to move the table out in order to squeeze me into the booth, which is really ridiculous when you need to go to the bathroom. Talk about squeezing people in like cattle! 

This photo makes the Dirt Candy space look a lot larger and brighter than it really is— trust me, it's tiny.
This photo makes the Dirt Candy space look a lot larger and brighter than it really is— trust me, it’s tiny.

So, it’s unfortunate that none of Dirt Candy’s carefully and painstakingly manufactured facade managed to wear off on me. Well, more unfortunate for my bank account and empty stomach than anything else.

Snack: Jalapeño Hush Puppies – served with maple butter, $6.00

Mediocre deep fried fare is the best descriptor of this so-called "amazing" DC snack.
Mediocre deep fried fare is the best descriptor of this so-called “amazing” DC snack.

Thoroughly deep-fried and loved by countless (and in my opinion, sheep-like, taste-barren) patrons on Yelp, these corn-based creations are nothing more than cheese-less jalapeno poppers with more dough than jalapenos. It kind of reminded me of when I attempted to make my own donuts when I was little and added too much flour, resulting in a dense, unappetizing, deep-fried dough chunk. I felt extremely unhealthy while I ate these, and not in the “I’ve been craving these oily, deliciously guilty french fries all day and finally!” sort of way but more of “wow, for this much oil, it should at least taste good” kind of way.

In all honesty, I was sad to in a sense “waste” my daily calorie allotment to these unworthy cornmeal creations, which were the size of two hash browns each and cost $1.00 apiece (it comes with 6). And the maple butter? It tasted like someone mixed Earth Balance whipped spread with some maple syrup and called it a day.

What’s even sadder was that this was probably the most “appetizing” part of the meal — and when I put quote marks on “appetizing,” you better believe I fully mean it.

Rating: Almost Acceptable (Almost Acceptable)

Entree: Broccoli – smoked broccoli dogs, broccoli kraut, salt & vinegar broccoli rabe, $21.00

I think this takes the cake for the worst vegan thing I have ever eaten, considering the outrageous hype and price.
This really can’t be considered a “dog” or even a meal worthy of $1.50.

I have the perfect description of this dish, in two words: huge rip-off. What I thought was going to be a stylized broccoli hot dog actually turned out to be nothing more than two broccoli florettes with a comical, intentionally cut long broccoli stem as the “dog” section for the hot dog.

I am ashamed and embarrassed to even call this a vegan dish. It’s like in those cartoons when everyone in your family is feasting away on filling, delicious Thanksgiving fare and you’re left with a bowl of salad, it was that bad. The broccoli also tasted straight-up burnt, not pleasantly smoked, which was probably the intent. It was like eating veggie ashes.

What’s more, the “smoked broccoli dogs” came in regulation hot dog buns that probably cost $1.25 per bag of 6 at Key Food, except… get this… they sliced off the edges of the bun so it looked less like a bun and more “nouveau vegetarian cuisine,” I guess.

That just made me angry, because not only was that a huge fail on behalf of a grossly delusional chef, it’s a waste of bread, no matter how cheap it was to begin with (and trust me, it really did taste like those cheap bleached flour buns from the supermarket).

To top off their lovely “smoked broccoli dogs” was a mishmosh of even cheaper tasting sauerkraut that was made from broccoli stems. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy eating the actual broccoli florettes more than the stem, which I never do waste when cooking at home but don’t expect to be paying for as the main dish at a fancy restaurant. It’s kind of like paying for a shirt made out of leftover scraps from other shirts. Why would anyone deliberately go shopping for a second-rate product?

The “broccoli kraut” itself was much too vinegary to add any flavor to the otherwise unappetizingly burnt broccoli “dog.” Its liquid, which also seemed to have some Dijon mustard mixed into it, soaked into the bun, which made the whole thing soggy after a few minutes on my plate, leaving the whole thing a soury, unfulfilling, $21.00 mess.

Leaf-thin, almost non-existent broccoli rabe, anyone?
Leaf-thin, almost non-existent broccoli rabe, anyone?

This was probably the first time in centuries that I ate only 1/8th of my food and didn’t even take it to go, it was really that bad. I did eat some of the “salt & vinegar broccoli rabe” which came in leaf-like dehydrated chip form, just like those kale chips everyone seems to love. That was disappointing as well since I thought I would be getting a portion of sauteed broccoli rabe and not air-like chips for the money I paid. They didn’t taste terrible, but they definitely weren’t filling.

Rating: Absolutely Abysmal (Absolutely Abysmal)

Entree: Beans – coconut poached tofu, sea beans, saffron sauce, long beans with Moroccan herbs, sizzling rice, $18.00

I think I'd prefer Mamoun's $2.50 falafel over this, which is barely as filling and nearly 10x the price.
I think I’d prefer Mamoun’s $2.50 falafel over this, which is barely as filling and nearly 10x the price.

This second entree was actually supposed to be my choice, but since Ray had ordered the Broccoli without knowing there was to be mustard in that dish, I switched with him. However, as you can tell, the Broccoli was SO BAD that I ended up eating this instead. That’s not to say I much liked this dish either, it was just the lesser of two evils.

The description on the menu makes Beans sound like a really rich, exotic, luxurious and fulfilling dish — but it’s 100% not. What it was was a block of firm tofu that had a faint taste of coconut on the exterior that sat atop a bed of skinny long beans. The beans had been seasoned with much too much lemon juice, like the cook had squeezed some lemon on top right before plopping the tofu block on it. I could, with full confidence, replicate this same entree at home, but it would be bigger and 1/10th of the price of this one meal.

What’s laughable about this dish was the “sizzling rice” – basically, four quarter-sized “forbidden” rice crackers that had some butter patted in the middle to resemble an Oreo. Like the broccoli rabe, I thought the dish would be coming with an actual bowl of rice, but I guess they just can’t spare the expense to actually feed their customers. I had to call the waitress over to see where my rice was, and when she pointed at the two tiny “rice cookies” (in her own words), I died a little inside.

This was all topped with some sloppily battered and fried vegetables that tasted nothing like vegetables. Some “professional” cookery, right there.

And the enticing-sounding “saffron sauce?” I didn’t really taste it. Or maybe I’m not snobby enough to have the wherewithal.

Rating: Needs a load of work(Needs a load of work)

Conclusion –

If it wasn’t for the overall friendly service, I would probably have refused to even pay the damn bill. The waitress did, at one point, ask if I was satisfied with my meal, and I said “It’s O-K” with emphasis on the “Ohhh-Kay.” In hindsight, I should have told her how I really felt about the meal right then and there, because after the meal, I left a comment on the Dirt Candy email alert card about how the Broccoli was disappointing, being burned-tasting and sour, and she actually ran after me, out of the restaurant and into the cold to apologize, which honestly shocked me.

It isn’t the server’s fault that the food was sub-par, but unfortunately, people go to a restaurant for good food. No amount of apologizing and smiling can substitute for a delicious meal, which is why I won’t ever be stepping back in Dirt Candy ever again. Also, they added $22 worth of “mineral waters” to my bill that I never ordered.

Funny fact: during my meal, one girl had actually fallen off her chair while she was sitting at the table. Some of Dirt Candy’s chairs have only three legs on the bottom, which is probably why she fell off. C’mon, Amanda, you rip enough people off to afford buying some REAL four-legged chairs, right?

Ambiance/atmosphere – Almost Acceptable

Service – Fair, but really, can't you do better?

Price/Value – Absolutely Abysmal

Would I come again? HELL NAW.


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