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Sietsema’s 10 Worst Dishes of 2015

Eater's senior critic offers his annual list of culinary abominations.

That time of the year has come once again to praise...and to damn! Next week I will extol those dishes that have delighted me the most over the last 12 months, but now it is my sad task to mention those that provoked disgust, dishes so bad that even one bite was too much. These often occur when a faddish ingredient is abused, as we shall see with sea urchin. Sometimes it happens when an otherwise good or even great chef makes a massive mistake in judgement. In fact, many of the restaurants that turned out these monstrosities are well worth eating in despite these disasters — those that haven't already gone out of business, that is.

Bone Marrow at Ducks Eatery — Bone marrow is an unctuous viand on its own, which is why a good roasting and a few pieces of toast should be the extent of the dish. At Ducks Eatery in the East Village, the recipe, now removed from the menu, involved melting ricotta over the top and dotting the bones with oysters — wasting bivalves and making the marrow bones look and taste repulsive. Too bad, because I'd go to Ducks anytime for the fried duck and waffles or the Tuesday night smoked brisket.

Sea Urchin Pizza at Prova — Sea urchin is best served plain and fresh in the Japanese manner with a few drops of soy sauce, or in the Sicilian style over linguine. But when Prova put it on a Neapolitan pie, one lobe to a quadrant, and squirted thick squid ink all around it, flavoring the pie with fresh mint and lemon zest, they created a memorably awful product. R.I.P. Prova.

Mezze at Jams — The term "mezze' is pregnant with Middle Eastern meaning, denoting an opulent array of bread dips and salads which turn a pile of warm pitas into one of the world's greatest informal meals. Not so at the new version of Jams, which was to its original evocation in the 1980s as a reanimated corpse is to a live person. Now it's off the menu, but in the early months the entrée called mezze was a couple of poorly grilled vegetables, an indifferent grain salad, a squirt of tahini, and little else.

Foie Gras Banh Mi at Dirty French — Yes, even the Torrisi boys can sometimes stumble and fall face-down in the mud. That was the case with their vain attempt to luxuriate the stuffed Vietnamese baguette that's one of the few happy results of French colonialism in Indochina. As with sea urchin, foie gras is best enjoyed plain, with perhaps a smear of fruit preserves and a glass of sauternes. Here the fatty liver is buried in a morass of other ingredients, so that it might as well be liverwurst.

[The sage brownie at Dominique Ansel Kitchen by Krieger]

Lobster Thermidor at Oleanders — Once again a hotel restaurant is guilty of atrocities (as at Jams and Dirty French, which also reside in hostelries). Here the biggest problem is the lobster thermidor, a dish invented in France by Auguste Escoffier in the late 19th century, and traditionally made by tossing lobster meat with cognac and egg yolks, then fitting it back into the crustacean's shell. At Oleanders, the hapless creature is engulfed in gooey cheese, which makes the meat tough and obliterates its delicate flavor.

Surf and Turf Roll at Sushi Roxx — Maki rolls are the refuge of mediocre sushi parlors and salad bars, and Sushi Roxx — a quasi-Japanese raw-fish establishment with a Vegas-style floor show — provides no exception. The roll in question tops a rice cylinder stuffed with shrimp tempura, snow crab, and avocado with slices of indifferent roast beeflike you might find in a mediocre deli. Flavored with yuzu miso, the thing is a collision of bland flavors at less than one mile per hour, resulting in damage only to your wallet.

Caprese Salad at Via Della Pace Pizza — Named after the sunny isle of Capri, a caprese salad is such a simple thing: a ball of mozzarella with sliced red ripe tomatoes, decorated with basil and drizzled with olive oil and perhaps some vinegar. Why gum it up by using a half tomato that tastes like it was pulled from the fridge, pesto instead of basil, and a nest of fried vermicelli? Instead of mood elevating, the result is deeply depressing.

Tuna Poke at Makana — I'm a big fan of most aspects of Hawaiian cooking, but I'll never understand Makana's take on poke salad, the island answer to ceviche. Cubes of perfectly good raw tuna are inundated in Russian dressing (which means a mixture of ketchup and mayo), and while this mixture may be good on a burger, on raw fish it sucks.

Bull Penis at Kenka — Let's forget for a moment all the negative associations you may have with bulls and penises, and just consider the texture and flavor. Taste-wise, it smacks of nothing, like gnawing on a giant piece of gristle or a rubber bath toy. The texture is bouncy and gelatinous, chewy without engendering the desire to swallow. And the yellow sauce, which might be mustard mixed with mayo, or it might be...oh, nevermind!

Sage Smoked Moist Brownie at Dominique Ansel Kitchen — A rich chocolate brownie for dessert is one of those things so wonderful, that any tinkering is a mistake. In this case, the dense fudge smells like someone abandoned it in a burning house, and the sage will remind you of Thanksgiving stuffing. Ansel is one of the city's greatest pastry innovators, and it's natural that he should run off the rails once in a while, right?

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