I’m esteemed food critic Marn Staples. There are a lot of great restaurants out there. But how will you know which one to open your wallet (and mouth!) at?
Hostaria Del Sogno
Located in the lobby of the Lafayette Hotel, one would be excused for assuming Hostaria Del Sogno is only worth your time if you’re staying there on business. But its fantastic menu and impeccable service make this seasonal Italian restaurant one of the city’s finest.
Chef Gianni Derivi, a native of Florence, prepares delightful rustic Italian fare using locally sourced ingredients. My server, Brian, recommended the wild boar sausage polenta with morels. He did not steer me wrong: I ate every heavenly bite.
Later, when Brian returned to check up on me, he looked at my clean plate and remarked, “Boy, sir, you must’ve hated it!” I burst out in hysterics! What a marvelously delivered quip. I expected to have a belly full of food, but I also got a belly full of laughs!
After I finished my dessert — a sumptuous blueberry ricotta cheesecake — I found myself hoping Brian would pull the same joke on me again. But I guess he decided once was enough. I anticipate my return to sample more of Chef Derivi’s delicacies — and more chuckles courtesy of Brian!
HIGHS: Densely flavored Italian dishes; wonderfully funny wait staff
LOWS: Underwhelming courtyard view; expensive corkage fee
Jin San is the brainchild of Chef Tetsuo Nomura, formerly chef de cuisine at legendary sushi outlet Susubane. Striking out on his own, Nomura has crafted an ambitious Japanese/New American fusion concept that sometimes seems unsure of its own identity.
My server, Janet, suggested the omakase, a chef’s selection of sushi dishes and small plates. The initial courses of sushi I received arrived room temperature and smelled sour — major red flags. A later cooked dish — a miso mackerel with wasabi emulsion — tasted rancid, but I finished my plate out of professional obligation. Janet noticed my empty dish, and asked, “You still working on that?” I stammered, confused by the question, when suddenly, Janet cut in with a “Gotcha!” Hilarious! The whole meal was redeemed!
The next day, while I was besieged by the worst case of foodborne illness of my life — repeatedly filling my toilet with watery brown liquid spraying from both major orifices — I thought back on Janet’s outrageous quip and laughed and laughed. Sorry, Brian, but you’re no Janet!
HIGHS: Hilarious staff that will have you rolling on the cherrywood floors
LOWS: Food is lacking in flavor and presentation; “C” rating from the Health Department
Most chefs go their entire careers without winning a coveted James Beard Award. Chef Ty Alexander received his prior to his 30th birthday. This young lion of American fine dining is a master of seafood, so it’s appropriate his flagship restaurant has a picturesque bay view.
My exceptionally accommodating server, Alan, steered me through multiple courses of absolutely stunning food: a Woodleaf farms kale salad that was at once light and opulent; seared sea scallops over Israeli couscous that tasted like food for the gods. But as my meal approached its end, there was one problem: I had yet to laugh.
Then, I had an idea. Remembering Brian’s joke, I thought I could induce Alan to play along. So, I pointed at my empty plate and said, “As you can tell, I hated it!” Alan did not understand and apologized, offering the meal on the house. I had to clarify that I was joking, which he met with an “Oh, okay.” A deflating end to an otherwise transcendent meal.
When I got home, still starved for laughs, I called Hostaria Del Sogno and asked them to put Brian on the phone. I reintroduced myself and asked Brian to do the plate joke for me. He seemed extremely confused, but still willing to play ball. After he said, “Boy, you must’ve hated it!,” he stayed on the phone with me as I laughed for four minutes straight. If only Lucidity was so accommodating to its patrons.
HIGHS: Imaginative, delicious dishes by a true virtuoso
LOWS: Where are the jokes, ya goobers?
Chucklers Comedy Club
With its oversize cutout of a laughing cartoon man on the backstage wall, you know exactly what you’re in for when you find your seat in Chucklers. This stand-up club doesn’t have a kitchen, so the closest you’ll get to food is any garnishes that come with your two-drink minimum. But I found that trade-off more than worthwhile.
Our headliner was Liz Greenberg, who I learned I should know from her appearance on Last Call with Carson Daly. Perhaps in another life she was a doctor, because her observation-based humor had me in stitches! In fact, midway through her set, Liz noticed my boisterous laughter and turned her comedic guns on me. “Who’s that asshole laughing so obnoxiously?” she said. “Shut the fuck up, everyone hates you!” she finished, to hysterics from me and emphatic applause from the delighted crowd.
As security escorted me to my car, still convulsing with laughter, one thought filled my head: This was the best meal of my life.
HIGHS: Riotously funny; open-mic on Sunday nights for the daring
LOWS: Not a restaurant