Luxury Travel Blog + travel

Guu Izakaya: A Little Taste of Japan

My first time was in '84. The second time was '86. After that, a love affair had began. With Japan and Japanese food and culture, I mean. I tried to (foolishly) learn Nippongo on my own and even surrounded myself with Japanese influences - from Sanrio to sushi. Fast forward to this Toronto winter night, I feel like that little kid in love with Japan again. I am transported back to Tokyo. Into a rowdy Japanese restaurant. But. I. am. in. Toronto.

Guu Izakaya, a restaurant concept that started in Vancouver, now has an outpost in Toronto. True, the line-ups went around the block, but we were determined to tough it out. The wait was close to 2 hours, but as soon as the friendly gatekeeper called us, we jumped up like eager little bunnies. A chorus of Japanese sing-song greetings accosted us through the door, while fellow customers cheered and clapped as we sat. The energy at this friendly boƮte was positive and favourable. We hoped the food would hold up its end of the bargain.

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Izakaya has come to loosely mean "a Japanese tapas-style drinking bar" in modern terms. Here, the tables are communal, so there were plenty of chances to schmooze and booze with your neighbours. As Japanese menus (with English translations) were passed down the table - along with hot towels - we got down to the business of ordering.

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"Takowasabi" octopus with chopped wasabi stems and vegetables; "Kabocha Korokke" deep fried kabocha croquette with boiled egg; "Gomaae" boiled spinach with black sesame sauce

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"Takowasabi" octopus with chopped wasabi stems and vegetables - ready to be rolled. Caution: spicy!

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"Aburi Salmon" seared Atlantic salmon with ponzu sauce and wasabi mayo

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"Brie Cheese" deep fried Brie cheese with mango and blueberry sauce

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"Karokke" deep fried smashed potatoes and ground beef croquettes with Tonkatsu sauce

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"Fresh shrimps"

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"Kakuni" sweet miso-braised pork belly with boiled egg and a dollop of wasabi

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"Fish foie gras"

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"Kakimayo" grilled oyster with spinach, garlic mayo and cheese

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"Gyutangue" grilled beef tongue (a favourite)

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"Karubi" salt-and-pepper grilled beef short ribs with green onions

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"Tontoro" grilled pork cheek with salt and yuzu pepper

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We ended the 2-hour feast in a reverie of tempura bananas with coconut ice cream. By this time, my miso-soup-sipping little girl had turned into a Sleeping Beauty.

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Looks like the table next to us cleared as well.

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The verdict? It was unthinkable fun while it lasted, with food that matched the jovial atmosphere. But how long will the hype last?

Did I just take you back to Japan for a bit there?

Guu Izakaya
398 Church Street, Toronto, Canada M5B 2A2
Tel. 416-977-0999

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Guu Izakaya: A Little Taste of Japan + travel