Going to a fancy restaurant on a Valentine’s date seems too formal and contrived. It reeks of awkward. You want each other to loosen up and relax, so what better way than to go to a casual restaurant? But wait, there’s more to it than just popping into a random fastfood joint. This requires some planning. Fortunately, we took one for the team and you stand to profit from our observations and the abovementioned conclusion. Here is what we learned:
1. Location, location, location. Choose a casual restaurant (I chose the Dohtonbori branch at the SM Mall of Asia). Casual restaurants are less likely to raise their prices on Valentine’s Day, and won’t, in all likelihood, have minstrels serenading couples at their tables. They also probably won’t have any expensive Grand Crus on the menu or require reservations to get a table. Bonus point: Dohtonbori has a tatami room so props for being extra casual and relaxed on a normally stressful situation.
There are a few other reasons I chose a mall-based restaurant: parking and accessibility via public transport; the variety of activities available, pre-and post-meal (Movie? Fun times at the arcade? A live concert?); plus the added emphasis on this being a casual meet-up.
2. An okonomiyaki is not as conventional as a teppanyaki or takoyaki so there’s more to talk about as you begin to ask questions like, whatever possessed the Japanese to put cabbage and tempura tidbits, vegetables, and meat or seafood into a batter mix and fry it on a griddle? Well, the story goes that in wartime Japan, people had to figure out ways to make meals out of trimmings and whatever tidbit leftovers were around (casually drop that this trivia came from a National Geographic article). Another story goes that it’s been around since the Edo period, during the height of the samurai, when it was essentially a dessert. Then you can talk about the samurai.
3. An okonomiyaki is interactive. It is essentially a savory pancake of several ingredients bound together by a special batter (think frittata) and fried on a hot griddle. There are several steps to making an okonomiyaki. Imagine you and your date cooperating and mixing the batter together (you need eight to 10 full strokes to blend it well), pouring out a perfectly moulded cake onto the griddle, flipping it three times over a 15-minute period, brushing it with a sweet-savory sauce and artfully decorating it with Japanese mayo as a final flourish. It pretty much saved you from awkward silences for a full 15 minutes – at the beginning of the meal!
4. It’s a meal you can share. An okonomiyaki is dense and filling, and has a variety of flavors and textures in the cake. Think of the savings. You can have one for as low as Php260 (pork, cheese or veggie?) or a top-end one for Php500 to Php600, with a choice of Kiwami Okonomiyaki made of special seafood like octopus, scallops and shrimp, and even one made of Iberico pork (also at Dohtonbori). In between there’s a Hamburg Cheese Steak for Php380.
5. An okonomiyaki can be extra special. For a special-but-casual okonomiyaki meal, there’s the Camembert Cheese Okonomiyaki being offered on a limited basis by Dohtonbori around Valentine’s Day. It’s value because it’s a whole wheel of the expensive cheese for only around Php500. Plus it’s fun to eat because it’s a melted cheese – on Valentine’s Day!
BONUS tip: Because it takes 15 minutes to cook an okonomiyaki, order an appetizer. In my case, it was the gyoza (Php160 for five pieces), which is steam-cooked on the hot griddle but takes only five minutes to cook. More interactive fun, and more time for casual conversation.
Part of being romantic is not being too romantic. You’re in the chase period, but don’t do all the chasing. Or at least don’t be too obvious about it. Happy dining, and try not to burn yourself at the griddle.