We don't have anything against vegetarians. Our beef, so to speak, is with vegetarian restaurants, whose fake-meat trickery usually just leaves us hungry for the real thing.
Luckily, Amanda Cohen agrees. The vegetarian chef's new East Village restaurant, Dirt Candy, serves rich, produce-driven food that doesn't need to pretend to be a slab of protein to get our attention.
Begin your meal with a snack of crispy jalapeño hush puppies (pictured; $6), served with maple syrup-laced butter. Cohen's starters are clever and borderline madcap, like kimchi-flavored doughnuts ($12) or mixed greens ($11) garnished with mini grilled-cheese sandwiches and crackly grapefruit "lollipops," which could easily be confused for dessert.
Main courses satisfy our perpetual craving for rich, starchy food. Try the lush carrot risotto ($16) and creamy grits topped with a runny, tempura-fried poached egg ($18). The restaurant's deep fryer never rests, producing desserts like warm ricotta fritters ($9), cooled off with a tart lemon- and olive oil-flavored ice cream.
Butter, cream, cheese, fried stuff: With lusty distractions like these, you won't miss the meat.
Dirt Candy, 430 E. Ninth St. (between Ave. A and First Ave.); 212-228-7732 or dirtcandynyc.com