The time has arrived when I look back sadly over the previous year to pick the 10 worst dishes I tasted. I say “tasted” because it would be difficult to plow one’s way through any of these disasters in its entirety. These serve as a warning to chefs that even great restaurants can belly flop by being overly creative, or by just juxtaposing ingredients that clearly don’t belong together. Needless to say, some of these dishes have long since been KO’ed from their respective menus, so don’t go searching for them. To those that didn’t linger long, this annual recital will still stand as a negative tribute to horrible food in all its misbegotten manifestations.
Eggs Benedict at Flipper’s: The insane desire to further complicate an already complicated dish has led to many remarkable culinary failures. The eggs Benedict at Japanese pancake chain Flipper’s is a clear example. Instead of English muffins, regular pancakes are deployed, and not the puffy omelet ones the chain is famous for. The poached eggs are planted on top of them with the usual unctuous Hollandaise, but the dish is further complicated with a green salad interpolated between the layers. Needless to say, the lettuce becomes wilted, the tomato slice soaks the pancake, and the whole mess goes downhill from there. You’ll find yourself rescuing the bacon, and then leaving the rest on your plate.
Plain cheese slice at Wegmans: Sure the sushi is pristine at the Wegmans’ sushi and sashimi counter, and the made-to-order meal-size salads and “great American burgers” are good, too. But step around the corner to the pizza counter, and the story is quite different. Among the pizzeria-style pies on display, the stiff, overcooked crusts are a definite fail even before getting to the toppings. In the case of the plain cheese pizza, the reheated slice develops a spongy quality and weird pinprick bubbles. And don’t even ask me about the pies made to your specifications — there’s no worse margherita in town.
Crab-asparagus soup at Madame Vo BBQ: When this Madame Vo offshoot appeared late last year, everyone thought, what a nifty idea to revive the classic seven-course beef dinner of Vietnam known as bo 7 mon. And indeed, with an embroidery of modern ingredients and techniques that often diverged from the traditional, the meal was splendid. But the menu also offered a la carte choices, of which crab-asparagus soup was the worst. Floating nearly indistinguishable slivers of crab, white asparagus, and egg in a chicken broth that looked like dishwater, the soup was unsatisfying in both concept and taste.
Frenagel at Carlo’s Bake Shop: The term “frenagel” represents a portmanteau of French plus bagel, which doesn’t go very far to describe this pastrocity (pastry plus atrocity). It’s really a combo bagel, croissant, and brioche, and arrives paved with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and sea salt. Perhaps it’s the weight of the toppings that makes the crust greasy and unyielding, encompassing an interior that flakes into nothingness when grasped by the hand. Hyped on the show Cake Boss — a show that focuses on this Hoboken bakery of middling merit — the frenagel ought never to have existed, let alone be smeared with cream cheese as one is instructed to do upon buying one.
Hamachi tartare at Wild Ink: A friend and I underwent an early visit to this sprawling Hudson Yards restaurant with magnificent views, and we agreed that the hamachi tartare was not the freshest we’d ever tasted. But, concealed beneath a giant off-white flop of science chef foam, which according to the menu contained “lime, apple, buttermilk, and leek ash oil,” a meh dish turned into a real horror. Indeed, the foam on top had the texture of the marshmallow product called “Fluff,” a texture that smothered the raw fish.
Beef shank stroganoff at Hudson & Charles Dinette: Hudson & Charles is a respected boutique butcher in the West Village that pushes all the grass-fed, locally sourced, and sustainable buttons, and I’ve bought some great meats there. So when it opened a small restaurant next door focusing on meat, I was soon in the door. Unfortunately, the food was disappointing — especially a version of beef stroganoff made with a lamb shank dropped from above onto a bowl of pasta and greens. Where was the rich sour cream sauce, I wondered, and at $29 for a small quantity of beef, the price was an insult.
Cheesy Corn at Mothership Meat Company: Even in the best Texas barbecues, the sides are notoriously mediocre even while the smoked meats are excellent. The same applies to Queens newcomer Mothership Meat Company. I loved the prime rib and brisket but found the sides lacking, especially as they strayed from the usual barbecue sides of pinto beans, potato salad, and cole slaw. The so-called cheesy corn was particularly loathsome, a molten heap of yellow cheese with only the occasional kernel of corn. You couldn’t spoon it directly into your mouth, but what to do with it? On a grilled cheese sandwich, maybe it would fly.
Caesar salad at Belcampo: Caesar salad is one of the most abused dishes in the carryout canon. Possibly invented in Tijuana at an Italian restaurant in 1924, it traditionally contains uncut romaine lettuce, a dressing rich in egg yolks, parmesan cheese, and anchovies, preferably whole and draped across the salad. The grab and go version at Belcampo was particularly disappointing, a meager and relatively expensive evocation with too much bacon, pallid croutons, and no discernible input from anchovies. And the meager grated cheese component was more like dandruff than cheese.
Chicago dog at Custom Burgers by Pat LaFrieda: Anyone who’s ever studied the Chicago dog knows it’s produced according to an ironclad recipe. The frank itself is often a Vienna Red Hot, but the bizarre combination of ingredients that goes on top is more important: pickle spear, bright green sweet relish, tomatoes, raw onions, grainy mustard, peppy sport peppers, and celery salt on a poppy seed bun, a heavenly combination of flavors. Well, this Kennedy airport fast food counter in Terminal 5 manages to blow it completely. The mustard is weak and watery, the pickles soggy chips rather than crisp spears, and the peppers, poppy seed bun, and celery salt missing entirely. The frank itself didn’t taste too great, either. [Note: Pat LaFrieda reached out to say that the Chicago dog wasn’t his, even though the signage seems to imply it. So please look elsewhere for the culprit.]
Orange beef at Xu’s Public House: I’ve racked my brains trying to think of a dish this bad in any cuisine and I’m coming up blank. Imagine pouring buckets of thick, sweet, orange flavored syrup over heavily breaded meat until the pieces are basically glued together and taste like somebody spilled breakfast drink on them. Wait, am I really in Panda Express? Thankfully, the heap is small, and the vegetable and rice on the side are very tasty at this otherwise good place.