It wasn’t the recommendations that blew us away so much as the clerk himself!

As you may have heard, we’ve been going around to our favorite restaurants and asking the people that work there what they would spend their own money on. We’re calling it the “Clerk’s Own-Pocket Recommendation” experiment. After all, what better way to find the best things to eat than by asking the people who know the menu inside and out?

So far we’ve tried it at Denny’s, Mister Donut, and Muji Ryohin to great success, and this time, we went to popular curry chain CoCo Ichibanya. But there we ran into trouble. Not because the recommendations were bad! No, it was becuase the clerk that we spoke to there was so nice that our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun almost developed a crush on him.

Of course, all of the clerks we’ve asked at all of the different restaurants we’ve visited have been super nice. They’ve all gone above and beyond our expectations in pointing out their favorite foods. But the clerk at CoCo Ichibanya…P.K. wouldn’t be surprised if there are people who regularly eat at this branch just to interact with such an exceptional guy.

So what did he recommend? Since CoCo Ichibanya’s main fare is curry that you can customize with different toppings, P.K. specifically asked the clerk, “What toppings do you recommend that you would spend your own money on?”

1. Paripari Chicken (326 yen [US$2.34])

Within one second, the clerk answered, “Paripari Chicken,” so that was clearly his favorite topping. It wasn’t really surprising, since CoCo-Ichi’s Paripari Chicken is made with thick, juicy cuts of chicken and deep-fried to crispy perfection. P.K. had absolutely no complaints about this delicious recommendation.

2. Buta Shabu (292 yen)

Buta Shabu, which is pork simmered in a roux, was his second recommendation. Adding this to your curry bowl gives it a hearty boost that adds volume and visual appeal. The clerk also told P.K., “I think the simmered-style toppings pair better with pork curry rather than beef curry,” so that’s something to consider when trying this topping.

3. Spinach (242 yen)

The clerk chose spinach, which is another simmered-style topping, as a contrast to the other toppings, which were all meat. It wasn’t simply there to add color; it supplied a delicious flavor to the dish as well. The clerk said that a half-size topping works just as well as a full size topping if you’re not super keen on leafy green things.

4. Half-sized Hamburg Steak (142 yen)

“The hamburg steaks are delicious, but I think the half-size offers plenty of volume,” the clerk told us. CoCo Ichibanya’s hamburg steaks are really meaty; you could eat one all on its own. The one P.K. received as a topping was all you could ever ask for as far as one of our favorite meat dishes goes, and the clerk was right; half was more than enough.

5. Mentaiko Potato Salad (280 yen)

When at the end P.K. asked for a salad recommendation, the clerk immediately replied with the limited-time-only Mentaiko Potato Salad, which contains spicy cod roe. He recommended it “as long as you don’t mind mentaiko and mayonnaise,” but in P.K.’s opinion, that combination, simple as it is, is the peak of culinary exceptionality. It was so good that he had to wonder why it wasn’t a regular menu item.

In fact, he ate all of the clerk’s recommendations with relish, and he was so focused on the food that he didn’t notice the clerk was keeping an eye on him the whole time. That’s why, when he finished up his meal, paid, and went to go home, he was surprised when the clerk emerged from the kitchen to intercept him and asked, “Were the toppings to your taste?”

P.K. could only blush, stare, and stammer. The clerk had gone out of his way to watch for P.K.’s departure, and at that very moment had burst out of the kitchen to ask him if he liked the toppings he’d recommended in an endearingly polite and humble way, as if he were a chef in a fancy restaurant. (In Japanese, he said, “Toppingu, okuchi ni aimashita ka?”) P.K. almost developed a crush on the clerk right then and there. 

Naturally, all of the recommendations the clerk made were delicious, but what really stuck with P.K. the most was his sincerity. Maybe after all, it’s not the spices that make CoCo Ichibanya’s curry so good–it’s the kindness of its employees.

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