Review: Guu Izakaya

12 Sep

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Have you ever walked into a restaurant and thought to yourself, “Well, this is going to be different”? It’s an exciting feeling that doesn’t happen all that often; but, walking into Guu Izakaya on Church St., I was definitely overcome by that thought.  Everyone who enters and exits gets a loud greeting and goodbye from the entire staff. A bit overwhelming, but it certainly sets the tone for your evening. The place is an absolute nuthouse in the best possible way.

That evening, I was having dinner with my brother and a friend. We were lucky enough to get seats within a few minutes upon arriving, a rare feat as I understand it. Guu features communal dining, with long tables that seat around 15 – 20 people, as well as seats at the bar where you can watch the chefs work. There is a two-hour time limit for diners and often a 1-2 hour wait for a seat. If you can, go early or prepare to cool your heels for a while. I promise you that it will be worth it.

My two dining companions had been to Guu before so they did the bulk of the ordering. They ordered the best dishes they’d had before and also took cues from our tablemates who’d ordered some fascinating dishes. The menu is set up tapas-style, a fantastic way to sample all sorts of delicious creations. We ordered eight dishes for the three of us which was just about right and all were quite reasonably priced.

The first to arrive was the decidedly (and awesomely) decadent deep-fried brie served with a mango and blueberry sauce.  The four pyramid-shaped morsels were golden and crispy on the outside and gooey, rich deliciousness on the inside. Like, eyes-rolling-in-the-back-of-your-head-good. Next up: the salmon sashimi. Melt in your mouth greatness. It’s one of those simple dishes that really sings based on the merits of great, high quality ingredients.

On to the bacon-wrapped scallops and enoki mushrooms. Holy. Smokes. Bacon-wrapped anything is a winner in my books (see: A’s Awesome Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts), but here the contrasting textures played against each other so beautifully. Paired with the salty pork, the sweet scallop and earthy mushrooms, this dish was so good that it was tempting to cancel the rest of our order and have nothing but this for the rest of the night.

The beef carpaccio was placed before our wide eyes next and it was a lovely, bright contrast to the richness of the dish before. Served with with ponzu, wasabi, mayo & garlic chips, this rare beef was light and, somehow, refreshing. It was nice to have a lighter bite after the richness of the scallops before.

It was at this point in our meal that I noticed a crowd of waiters pause from their constant, frenetic activity. Then I spotted a server with a slice of cake with a candle in it. Guu’s birthday celebrations put Chuck E. Cheese to shame. Not only did the wait staff lead the entire restaurant in a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday”, encouraging everyone to clap and sing along, but even the insanely busy chefs  joined in. At one point, they had the lights flickering on and off. Utter celebrational pandemonium and it was amazing.

Once the place had settled down a little (to be clear, Guu is the least settled place on the planet), the strangest creation of the evening appeared at our table. It was roughly the size of a softball, deep fried and had a wooden knife protruding from the centre. We wracked our brains trying to figure out if we had actually ordered it, decided we hadn’t and dug in anyway. What it turned out to be was a Japanese scotch egg with a layer of pureed pumpkin surrounding a hard-boiled egg. While I was skeptical initially – I’m not a big pumpkin fan, much to the horror of many of my friends – the combination of the creamy pumpkin, rich egg, crispy exterior and tangy sauce was downright addictive. We just about scraped the plate with out chopsticks long after other dishes had been cleared away.

When the spare ribs arrived, it was allI could do to refrain from gobbling them all up myself. The marinated beef was tender and salty, having surely been marinated for quite some time. If you’re a fan of spare ribs, these are a can’t-miss.

The final dishes of the night were the decadent, baked oysters and the light, miso-glazed black cod, a personal favourite of my brother’s. We ordered the oysters because we saw them arrive for another group at our table and they looked so unique! Kind of a twist on oysters Rockefeller, they’re served with spinach and mushrooms, smothered in a potent mayo-garlic sauce and topped with melted cheese…all in a giant shell. This was a thing of glorious, messy beauty. The mushrooms nestled in the there made for an umami bomb of a bite. Definitely give this one a shot, my friends. It’s weird and tasty and I’ve never seen it anywhere else.

Not only was this one of the best meals I’ve had all year, it was by far and away the most fun. Unquestionably, the company helped but the atmosphere at Guu is like none other. It’s not the place to go for a quiet, intimate dinner; it’s the place to go when you want to try innovative, playful and truly remarkable dishes at a pretty reasonable cost. The place is positively brimming with excitement and energy. I can’t wait to go back and try all the dishes I missed on the first go ’round.

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2 Responses to “Review: Guu Izakaya”

  1. J September 24, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    Okay I changed my mind, take me here instead!

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