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An Ear-Shattering Night at GUU Izakaya

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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 Signage

GUU Signage

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.

The Waiting List

The Waiting List

Gas powered heat lamps, strategically placed near the entrance of the eatery, help patrons stay warm in the cold.

Gas lamps keeping patrons warm in the evening

Gas lamps keeping patrons warm in the evening

Luckily for us, the weather was pleasantly warm as Don and I patiently waited an hour for available seats.

Peeking into GUU as we waited outside

Peeking into GUU as we waited outside

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.

Inside GUU

Inside GUU

Large crowds

Large crowds

Seated, we were quickly handed the menu for the evening.

GUU Menu

GUU Menu

Aside from the regular menu, there was also a two-page menu of specials to select from.

Tonight's Specials

Tonight’s Specials

The first dish that caught our eye was the Tako Carpaccio ($6.80).

Tako Carpaccio

Tako Carpaccio

A perfect bite!

A perfect bite!

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).

Gyu Carpaccio

Gyu Carpaccio

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.

Kabocha Korokke

Kabocha Korokke

Inside the Kabocha Korokke

Inside the Kabocha Korokke

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.

Ton Toro

Ton Toro

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.

Takoyaki

Takoyaki

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.

Patrons seated at the kitchen bar

Patrons seated at the kitchen bar

Chefs busily preparing their dishes

Chefs busily preparing their dishes

A stack of plates

A stack of plates

One of Don’s favourite Japanese dishes was the Aburi Salmon ($6.80), a salmon sashimi dish.

Aburi Salmon

Aburi Salmon

Carefully seared on the outside, the salmon was fresh, fatty, and rather decadent.

For me, no Asian meal is complete without noodles.

Yaki Udon

Yaki Udon

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!

Particulars:
Guu Izakaya
398 Church St. (at McGill St.), Toronto
(416) 977-0999

Guu Izakaya on Urbanspoon

Teacher by day and blogger by night, I have always been passionate about food. I grew up watching my mother cook and bake as I sat at the kitchen table doing my homework. In the summers, I happily played in the backyard garden, picking strawberries as my parents tended their crops. A city girl with a love for the outdoors, my goal is to capture the ever-changing Ottawa food scene. When I’m not running, you can find me shopping for ingredients or in the kitchen cooking for my family and friends. Whether you’ve been cooking for a long time or are learning to cook for the first time, I hope you will find something delicious here to inspire you.

Comments

Andrew

Ah yes, I remember grinning when all the staff yelled "Irashaimase!". Too bad you didn't get the bar seating, Bonita and I absolutely loved the almost unfettered view of the kitchen. Good call on the Tontoro and Yakiudon; the next time you're there, I'd suggest the Unagi Doria and the Gyutangue.

On second thought, can you wait for my next Ontario trip before you revisit the place? The more people, the more dishes we can sample!

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@petitbills (May 17, 09:20 AM)
@foodiePrints one of my favs

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OMGitsPej (May 17, 09:19 AM)
@foodieprints guu'd on the guu! got a spare million? could dominate ottawa with a franchise, best concept, solid biz but is this city ready?

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@ottawaoperadiva (May 16, 02:09 PM)
@foodiePrints Guu Izakaya is at the top of my list for this summer's trip to TO - glad to hear you liked it! /cc @thefoodott

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@thefoodca (May 16, 02:00 PM)
An Ear-Shattering Night at GUU Izakaya (foodiePrints) http://fewd.ca/a25118

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