Thursday, July 26, 2012

Best place for date night

Cocoro, do you know it? It's a perfect little modern-Japanese restaurant, tucked into suburban Ponsonby-or-is-it-Grey-Lynn, where the staff are charming and the food is flawless and the wine is rare and interesting. It's my current number one recommend for a date night. I left the gf at home on Friday and went there with a good mate, but I swear to god the place is so romantic that if he'd had one more glass of Seresin Chiaroscuro I'm sure he totally would have.

He's a funny character actually. 'Wonder Boy', they call him in his chosen industry, because he's New Zealand's unofficial expert on etiquette and doing the right thing. He's the guy who taught me you should always stand when a woman leaves or arrives at the table. He's the one who advised that, for social occasions, "if you don't know whether you should take a present then the answer is: of course!" And he's the only person I know who celebrates mid-year Valentine's Day - August 14th, being exactly six months after actual Valentine's Day and, he says, the perfect excuse to do something romantic for your wife. I know, you're surprised he had one, aren't you?

For a brief period in the early naughties the two of us were both single, and every weekend would hit the dancefloors of Wellington looking for some action. You'd think he'd do quite well, wouldn't you, with all that smooth Mr Right stuff, but guess what? It's a long way to August 14th when you're dancing with your same-sex flatmate on the illuminated floor of The Big Easy. The one thing he couldn't master was the short syllabled nightclub conversation.

"What do you do?" a young prospect would ask him by way of small talk.

"I'm in charge of marketing for a nationwide industry body", he'd reply, before really turning it on: "basically I advocate for XXXXX XXXXX in the international market, raising the profile of our XXXXX brand and supporting the efforts of our XXXXXX suppliers in key markets such as ...."

By this time the poor young woman had usually left to come dance with me, but never for long.

"So, do you listen to More FM?" I'd ask hopefully, although I already knew the answer.

"No, but I think my mum does", she'd reply, before helpfully offering to set us up some time and unconsciously reminding me that, even by age 26, the days of me being a serious option for a carefree student nightclub-goer were seriously dwindling.

So now it's ten years later, and my buddy has four kids. I know! And I have one kid, and Cocoro was a pretty great place to catch up on a rare night off daddy daycare for both of us.

Here's the important stuff. You can book for Cocoro but it's popular, and you may find that by the time you ring the only option left is the big shared table in the middle. If there's just two of you, you should take it - it's not shared shared; as in, there's zero chance you'll feel obligated to make small talk with the stranger next to you. Thank god for that: I'll happily chat to the person behind me in the queue at Mitre 10, but I'm toxically afraid of communal dining. What if they want to keep chatting, and you can't get away because you've already ordered dessert and they know it?!

You can't book unless you're doing the degustation, and you should. The D word scares a lot of people, particularly those who are afraid of commitment. But even though this one is around eight courses long it doesn't drag, and it's not expensive ($85, plus $45/60 for wine) and it's how this sort of food is best enjoyed. An oyster here, some sashimi here, a prawn wrapped in shredded, spun, filo pastry there. It's fun, and beautiful, and pretty filling too. I think you'll like it.

Cocoro is halfway down Brown Street, between Ponsonby and Richmond Roads. Yes, it's central but when you're inside you hardly feel like you're in Auckland (compliment). Wait staff are all Japanese, with just enough English to do their job very well but just enough broken phrasing to make it feel authentic.

The chef has a bit of a profile too, but I can't tell you much about him thank goodness. That's the problem with doing this and the Metro job too long: you get to know and like them all and suddenly you feel guilty when you occasionally and inevitably need to, well, rip them a new one.

My buddy liked the restaurant too, I think, although he's far too polite to share his real opinion on a restaurant somebody else chose. He's sounding a bit like Ned Flanders now I know, but I'm pleased to tell you he does have a dark streak. Eight glasses in to our wine matching I leant in and said to him "come on, you must have somebody in your life you can say something nasty about".

He paused for a moment to reflect, then said to me: "I'm ashamed to say I do have a hate list, but I'm not proud of it. There are some people who just rub me up the wrong way, Jesse, and I find myself unable to think anything but angry, violent thoughts about them."

"Awesome, tell me who!" I said, expecting the usual cast of serial killers, sex offenders and genocidal dictators.

"Justin Marshall, Owen Wilson and Phil Collins" he whispered specifically. And with that he left, having silently paid for the entire meal five minutes earlier while I was bending down to retrieve a napkin.