When I’m not in Toronto visiting friends, I’m in the city for business, mostly teaching-related. After a long workday, I count myself lucky. Those same friends find time to cheer me up in the evenings.
Last summer, after a particularly stressful day of training, my friends came to my rescue with a fabulous dinner. They took me to the first (398 Church Street) of Toronto’s now 2 GUU Izakayas. Newly opened Guu SakaBar (559 Bloor Street W.) welcomed guests for the first time this past April.
GUU is a Vancouver-originating chain that aims to gives patrons an authentic Tokyo pub experience, a boisterously loud one.
Named one of the city’s best new restaurants of 2010 by James Chatto, dinner at GUU is unforgettable adventure for the uninitiated. From waiting in line nearly 90 minutes in the stifling evening summer heat to the exuberant greetings and goodbyes from the staff and delicious menu offerings, I knew this was a place to take Don the next time we were in Toronto together.
Between work and blogging, it’s not often Don and I find time to relax in the Big Smoke, but we managed a trip earlier this year. We visited GUU New Year’s Eve 2010.
Now, how popular is GUU in Toronto? Even in the winter, patrons hungrily, but patiently wait outside. GUU takes no reservations so sometimes ridiculously long line-ups form outside the restaurant, everyone adding their names to the waiting list and then cowering together for warmth.
Gas powered heat lamps, strategically placed near the entrance of the eatery, help patrons stay warm in the cold.
Luckily for us, the weather was pleasantly warm as Don and I patiently waited an hour for available seats.
We were offered complementary cups of hot tea.
At last, the hostess called my name. With Don in tow, it was time to go in!
Concealing a knowing smile in GUU’s dim lighting, I knew exactly what was awaiting us: a loud, enthusiastic, ear-splitting welcome from the restaurant staff. Don was astounded by the happy infectious greeting.
A party of two, we were seated at a small table on one side of the restaurant. Larger parties were seated at long communal wooden tables.
Seated, we were quickly handed the menu for the evening.
Aside from the regular menu, there was also a two-page menu of specials to select from.
The first dish that caught our eye was the Tako Carpaccio ($6.80).
The tako (octupus) carpaccio was delicious and surprisingly delicate. Normally, I am not a fan of octopus (having drank one too many bowls of octopus soup during my youth), but after one bite, it was all I could do not to eat the entire dish to myself. In fact, Don and I squabbled over who would get the past piece!
Next, was another carpaccio dish, Gyu Carpaccio ($6.50).
Thinly sliced, the beef sashimi was nicely marbled and beautifully seared on the edges. I usually dislike beef served this rare, so Don was wide-eyed as he watched me polish off half the plate.
Have you ever eaten a scotch egg before? My first was homemade, something for last summer’s Food Day Canada. GUU has their own take, substituting sausage meat for pumpkin.
The kabocha korokke ($4.80) was deep fried at a high temperature, crisping the outer skin, which was likely coated in panko. Inside, the egg was a tad overcooked. Still, the creaminess and sweetness of the pumpkin paired surprisingly well with the egg.
Lately, Don has been fascinated with pig’s cheeks. Navarra’s Chef Renee Rodriguez is to blame. So, when he saw pig’s cheeks listed on the menu, I knew he just had to have it.
Called Ton Toro ($6.50), the cheeks were flavourful, moist, and a tad chewy, radically different from the confited and crisped pig cheeks he had last.
A couple of summers ago, when Don and I visited Vancouver, one of his favourite outings was attending the Richmond Night Market. Why? Because there were many vendors serving Asian street food. One, he particularly enjoyed was the made-to-order takoyaki, octopus balls.
I’m not really sure how it tasted as the takoyaki ($5.00) disappeared rather quickly.
As we waited for our final two dishes, Don decided to walk around the restaurant to capture the atmosphere.
One of Don’s favourite Japanese dishes was the Aburi Salmon ($6.80), a salmon sashimi dish.
Carefully seared on the outside, the salmon was fresh, fatty, and rather decadent.
For me, no Asian meal is complete without noodles.
The yaki udon ($7.80) was delicious with tender slices of beef, mushrooms, a sprinkle of sesame seeds, and strips of nori.
It was a fabulous night of food.
Total: $52.21 (including drinks and taxes, but before tip)
As we walked out the door, cries of thank-yous and good-byes in Japanese rang in our ears.
We’ll be back for more!
398 Church St. (at McGill St.), Toronto