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A giant heap of green salad with virtually no cutlet visible.
The veal Milanese at Arthur & Sons is sopping with harsh vinegar.

Sietsema’s 10 Worst Dishes of 2023

Mounds of wet salad, a liver pb&j, frisbee meat, and more

That wonderful and deplorable time of the year has finally arrived when I rummage through my notes and recollections to come up with a list of the year’s worst dishes. Some sounded good on the menu, but turned out to be tasteless or even foul; others, by their menu descriptions, seemed cursed even before the server dropped them on the table.

It is important to note that many of these dishes come from kitchens that are normally exemplary, with most dishes on their menus well worth ordering. No matter: Bad is bad, and it’s a critic’s central function to point out the vile as well as the wonderful. So, dear reader, here are the year’s 10 worst dishes. And look in a few days for my list of the year’s 15 best.

Veal Milanese at Arthur & Sons

Arthur & Sons is a restaurant that revives the red-sauced Italian American cooking of yesteryear, and veal Milanese, at $37, is one of its more expensive offerings. The pounded veal is tender, well breaded, and a generous portion. And sure, the classic dish usually has a bit of salad on top to juxtapose its crusty texture. But here the heap of baby arugula is a mound, making the dish look like a small damp animal, and it’s overdressed with harsh vinegar, which also soaks the cutlet and renders it soggy and sour.

A ball of burrata in the middle and random stuff scattered around it.
Local burrata at Waverly Inn.

Local burrata at Waverly Inn

Sure, I loved the chicken pot pie, the onion rings, and the burger at the historic Waverly Inn, which enjoys a lovely setting on a shady West Village corner. But I urge you not to order the so-called local burrata ($28), because it sits among a cavalcade of clashing flavors, which include pomegranate molasses, seared figs, balsamic vinegar, and basil oil — too many unrelated things on one plate, with the burrata shrinking to mushy inconsequence.

A bowl of red sauce.
Gazpacho at Pasta Corner

Gazpacho at Pasta Corner

Pasta Corner is a French restaurant chain from a pop star that serves a skewed and simplified version of Italian pastas. They are not very good. The worst thing on the menu is a Spanish gazpacho ($6) that tasted like canned spaghetti sauce, with none the zip that vinegar ought to confer.

A pile of greenish rice with three crocks of accompanying condiments.
Seafood biryani at Jazba.

Seafood biryani at Jazba

Jazba is another of those great new restaurants that explore the regional cuisines of India, and many of the menu’s offerings are quite good, including a dense and dark green chili chicken. Unfortunately, the southern-coastal-style seafood biryani ($34) is filled with rubbery seafood, some unidentifiable. It disappointed me just to look at it: Biryani should be a showy and well-organized dish.

Three oysters on the half shell thickly blanketed with cheese.
The cheese-topped oysters at Alligator Pear.

Charbroiled oysters at Alligator Pear

One of the cuisines hardest to get right in NYC is the Cajun and Creole cooking of New Orleans. Alligator Pear made an attempt when it opened this year, but there were several notable failures, including a fried catfish so thickly crusted with blue cornmeal that it had to be pounded to get at the flesh. But even worse were fresh oysters thickly coated with garlic and cheese, at five bucks a pop. What a horrifying thing to do to an oyster!

A rectangle of lasagna with mushrooms on top.
The mushrooms are dry, the béchamel like library paste.

Lasagna at Sartiano’s

In Italy, lasagna is made hundreds of different ways, and it’s relatively rare to get a bad one here in New York — until I tasted the lasagna ($29) at Sartiano’s, a new clubstaurant in Soho. It sported chanterelles strewn on top that had been dried out to the consistency of shoe leather, and the bechamel underneath could have been used to repair torn bindings on books.

A burger in a bun with a single cheese slice melting on top.
The single patty smash burger is a mere crust of meat.

Cheeseburger at Smashed

All right, the smash burger craze has gone far enough, with budding chains vying to see who can make their burger smashiest. The single patty ($8) at Smashed was so heavily salted that I could barely taste the meat, drawing all the moisture out by osmosis. Then it was so heavily smashed that it crackled like a vinyl record when I bit into it — there seemed to be no flesh left. Give me back my juicy hamburger instead of a dry frisbee!

A messy plate of a rib, greens, and dark sauce.
There’s a rib under there somewhere.

Berkshire pork rib at Gab’s

There was the germ of a good idea at Gab’s, dressing a fatty pork rib ($34) with Mexican chiles, but somehow the idea went awry. The sodden wads of kale weighed the dish down, making it damp and bitter, while the salsa negra was grimly grainy and wept red oil. And the charred lemons were an unnecessary distraction from what had previously been a good piece of meat.

Three pieces of a messy sushi roll with red and white sauces on top.
Behold the premium beef Texas roll.

Premium beef Texas roll at Kura Sushi

It’s been fun to watch the conveyor belt go around and around at Kura Sushi, as customers vie to snatch the tastiest morsels of sushi from it. I get it. As you might expect the sushi quality goes from acceptable to abysmal, and gloppy rolls smothered in sauces are the heart of the menu. But as a Texan and sushi lover, I was offended by the “premium beef Texas roll” ($3.85), which featured a little wad of beef, and so many other elements that one might as well have been eating a Big Mac.

Three pieces of toast with crushed peanuts, jelly, and pate.
The horror!

Berry Toast at Carriage House

Who doesn’t love a good chicken liver pate? Earthy and rich, the deep brown pate itself at Carriage House, home of the butter candle, is fine ($18). But after being spread on a sourdough crostino it’s topped with crushed peanuts and jelly — making what must be the world’s first offal PBJ. You’ll feel like a kid who’s just opened their lunchbox in a horror movie.

Check out some previous lists:

Sietsema’s 10 Worst Dishes of 2022; Sietsema’s 10 Worst Dishes of 2019; Sietsema’s 10 Worst Dishes of 2018; Sietsema’s 10 Worst Dishes of 2017; Sietsema’s 10 Worst Dishes of 2016; Sietsema’s 10 Worst Dishes of 2015

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