Friday, January 13, 2012

Guu Izakaya (Toronto - Downtown)

Arguably the most memorable meal I had during this trip to Toronto was celebrating my dad's birthday at Guu Izakaya in downtown Toronto.  Guu is a series of Japanese drinking establishments that got its start in  Vancouver some years ago, and finally made it to Toronto in 2009 with the opening of Guu Izakaya on Church Street (which was named Best Japanese Restaurant by Now Magazine and #1 Best New Restaurant of 2009 by and Guu Sakabar on Bloor Street in 2011 (#5 Best New Restaurant of 2011).  Guu has a rowdy, pub-like atmosphere where the staff shout greetings as you enter and exit.  The motto is essentially to hang with your friends, share some tapas, drink sake, and be merry.  It definitely attracts a young crowd, but luckily my parents are young at heart. :)  Having been to Japan a number of times, they commented that the atmosphere at Guu is very much like sake bars in Japan.  Indeed, Guu's staff are not only all Japanese, but all of them seem to be recent immigrants judging by their accented English.  It's endearing.  Walking into Guu actually feels a bit like walking into Japan.

The first thing to note about visiting Guu is the excruciatingly long wait.  We expected such at the height of the dinner hour, but thought - mistakenly so - that the wait would be manageable at 9:00 pm on a Wednesday night.  Imagine our surprise (and disappointment!) when we were told at Guu Izakaya that our estimated wait time would be 1.5-2 hours!  To make a long story short, our Plan B took us to Guu Sakabar 3.5 km (~2 miles) away which has a shorter wait, but we eventually ended up at Guu Izakaya again where we were finally seated at 10:30 pm.  They were dead on with their wait time estimate after all.

Unlike Guu Sakabar, which occupies a larger space and dedicates a large part of the restaurant to traditional Japanese "zashiki" seating, Guu Izakaya has only long communal tables and bar seating.  The six of us squeezed into one end of a communal table.  At this point I was so tired, hungry, and discombobulated that I didn't have the energy to decide what to order, so I deferred to my brother and his girlfriend who made most of the decisions for the table as they have been to Guu in the past and knew the menu well.  Despite my initial exhaustion, however, the night soon went uphill.  As if to make up for the long wait for a seat, the food arrived quickly, and everything was amazing.  The six of us ordered about a third of the entire menu - I guess we were so hungry we just went wild! - and I will let the photos and the menu descriptions speak for themselves:

Takowasabi - Marinated octopus with wasabi stem:

Takowasabi at Guu Izakaya
Takowasabi ($3.80)

Gomaae - Blanched spinach with sesame sauce (I particularly liked this sesame sauce!):

Gomaae at Guu Izakaya
Gomaae ($3.80)

Oden - Japanese style slow cooked hot pot:

Oden at Guu Izakaya
Oden ($7.50)

Uni (Sea Urchin) and Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp) sashimi (this was off the daily specials menu):

Uni (Sea Urchin) and Shrimp at Guu Izakaya
Uni ($9.80) and Amaebi ($6.80)

Ikapiri - Deep fried calamari with spicy ketchup and wasabi mayo (this was one of my favorites):

Ikapiri at Guu Izakaya
Ikapiri ($6.50)

Ebimayo - Deep fried prawn with spicy mayo:

Ebimayo at Guu Izakaya
Ebimayo ($7.80)

Nasu Miso - Deep fried eggplant with sweet miso sauce:

Nasu Miso at Guu Izakaya
Nasu Miso ($5.50)

Gindara - Grilled black cod with Saikyo miso and white wine sauce (mmm...delicious!!):

Gindara at Guu Izakaya
Gindara ($9.80)

Kimchi Udon - Udon noodles with spicy cod roe topped with kimchi:

Kimchi Udon at Guu Izakaya
Kimchi Udon ($7.80)

Kinoko Bibimbap - Rice, mushrooms, and cheese with seaweed sauce in sizzling stone bowl (I couldn't get a picture until the server had mixed everything up):

Kinoko Bibimbap at Guu Izakaya
Kinoko Bibimbap ($8.80)

Unagi Doria - BBQ water eel on mixed mushrooms rice with cheese on top (this was super awesome):

Unagi Doria at Guu Izakaya
Unagi Doria ($9.30)

Gyu Tongue - Grilled beef tongue with salt (another favorite of this meal):

Gyu Tongue
Gyu Tongue ($6.50)

Since Guu is a sake bar, the fam shared two bottles of the rice wine.  I decided not to partake, as I'm not a fan of sake, but at a place like Guu it just feels wrong not to imbibe in some alcohol.  So I ordered a Bamboo, made with with melon liqeur, white wine, lychee juice, and soda.  So guud!

Bamboo at Guu Izakaya
Bamboo ($6.00)

By the time we were done with all the food, it was already past midnight.  We had one more item to come though:  We surprised dad, the birthday boy, with an order of the Big Boy Almond Tofu, which comes with a birthday song.  Not just any birthday song, mind you, but a Guu birthday song, in which all - and I mean ALL - the staff, including the chefs in the open kitchen, and even many of the patrons sing, clap, jump, and cheer along.  It was quite the atmosphere, and it made my dad really happy.  Yay!

Big Boy Almond Tofu at Guu Izakaya
Big Boy Almond Tofu ($18)
(Disclaimer: Name spelled with goji berries in the center of
the dessert was digitally removed to protect the innocent) ;)

It's not easy to tell from the photo, but this big boy is quite big!  And so tasty to boot!  Here is my portion of it:

Big Boy Almond Tofu at Guu Izakaya
Big Boy Almond Tofu

Guu serves great food that's different from what you'd expect in a typical Japanese restaurant, but above all else, you have to go for the atmosphere.  We had such a fun time celebrating Dad's birthday and I really can't wait to go back!

Restaurant info:
Guu Izakaya
398 Church St, Toronto, ON, Canada
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