|The open kitchen at Guu was constantly alive with activity and enthusiasm.|
One of the first places I experienced for the first time was (Kitanoya) Guu, an izakaya on Church St. south of Carlton St. In terms of Western equivalents, an izakaya would be comparable to a tapas bar. Though several izakayas have been established in Vancouver now, they're still in the foothold phase in Toronto, where Japanese cuisine is predominantly represented by sushi restaurants. Izakayas are a totally unique dimension to Japanese cuisine, and thanks to globalization some establishments have gone to create contemporary dishes using ingredients not normally found in traditional Japanese cuisine such as cheese.
My sister warned me that no reservations were accepted and that the place fills up quickly, and she was right. Arriving at the entrance at 5pm we were advised of a 2-hour sit-in limit and we entered to see the place already nearly full. Any tension I acquired from this was quickly dispelled when the greeter announced another arrival of customers at the top of his lungs, which in turn was answered by the rest of his colleagues shouting, "Irashaimase!" (Welcome to our business!) I realized that this wasn't going to be like any other dining establishment I've visited to date. (To further my argument, how many restaurants provide complementary Listerine mouthwash in the washroom?)
Fortunately there were still a few seats available at the bar, which allowed us to have a great view of the kitchen and all the action happening in it. We were seated right at the centre, just to the chefs' left of the spot where the servers pick up the completed dishes. The open kitchen at Guu was constantly alive with activity and enthusiasm, moving at a dizzying non-stop pace, producing dish after eye-catching and olfactory-nerve-tingling dish. I was able to observe which of the kitchen staff was responsible for what aspects of cooking, making me feel like Rémi from "Ratatouille". The only times they weren't fully intent on their cooking was when they had to greet new customers, acknowledge food orders shouted to them from the servers, shouting out completed orders (and, my sister and I suspect) the table(s) to which those dishes were destined, or shouting "Arigato gozaimasu!" while waving as customers leave. It was a cacophony with an enthusiasm that is infectious.
|Gyutangue - Grilled beef tongue with salt; mustard on the side.|
|Kakimayo - Grilled oysters topped with spinach, garlic mayo and cheese.|
|Salmon Natto Yukke - Chopped salmon sashimi with seven friends (Natto, shibazuke, takuan, wonton chips, garlic chips, green onion and raw egg yolk), served with nori to make wraps.|
|Yakiudon - Pan-fried udon noodles with beef and vegetables|
|A Guu special: Chopped Spicy Tuna on Rice with Quail Egg Yolk.|
|Kabocha Korokke - Deep fried kabocha pumpkin croquette with boiled quail egg|
|Inside the Kabocha Korokke|
|Hotate Carpaccio - Hokkaido scallop sashimi with wasabi dressing|
|Unagi Doria - Rice with BBQ unagi, mixed mushrooms and cheese.|
|Tontoro - Pan-fried pork cheeks|
Guu certainly is a place with character, energy, flair and excitement. It didn't cease to amaze me during my entire experience, and I was entertained both by the food that was prepared and by the enthusiasm of the staff. As my sister and I left with the doorman declaring our departure and his colleagues shouting "Arigato gozaimasu!", I had a grin on my face, thinking, "Who else would be interested in joining me for dinner there? And who could help me translate all that shouting there?"
Name: (Kitanoya) Guu
Address: 398 Church St., Toronto, ON
Price Range: Dinner $25-$50 (depending on diner's appetite)