Restaurant Review: Parkdale gets a not so Guu’d izakaya

Save for a couple of menu bright spots, the Van City transplant disappoints


The takowasabi dish at Guu

Image: CJ Baek

Name recognition is everything. I think of myself as intelligent and logical, but when my (annoyingly more logical) spouse pointed out to me that the Volkswagen Jetta fully loaded would drive just as well as an Audi and save me 10 K, what did I do? I bought the Audi.

Because name recognition matters a lot to us. 

Hence my excitement when Guu, the Vancouver mothership, opened a branch in Parkdale. Guu has been fooling around with the Toronto market for a few years. They first opened a fabulous Guu on Church Street and a second one on Bloor West. Then came some corporate disavowals: it seemed franchises had been involved and head office soured on that arrangement. They left Toronto alone for a year.

But this one is the real thing. A 100 per cent Guu branch-plant imported from Vancouver, where they still line up for Guu.

The pared down interior of Guu’s Parkdale location (IMAGE: CJ BAEK)


The sashimi was meh. Bluefin tuna was very good, but the amaebi — sweet raw shrimp — had the faintest ammoniac tang, as did the uni (sea urchin roe).

So we switched to cooked foods, imagining that an izakaya, which in Japan is a raucous food ’n’ drink after-work grazing bar — would do better at that which is less challenging. Not so much.

One of my favourite Japanese snacks is okonomiyaki, the savoury pancake that’s pretty much always crisp, spiked with green onions and usually some seafood. Okonomiyaki are so popular there are whole restos devoted to them in Tokyo. (Yes, I ate them in Tokyo and loved them. I also watched dozens of drunken salarymen in identical black suits exit izakayas so drunk they were falling over. But that’s a story for another time.)

The Guu okonomiyaki is unfortunately soggy, with more cabbage than flavour. And good luck locating the seafood in it. They say there’s squid, but I had trouble tasting it.

Two items please me. Takowasabi, the classic izakaya big flavour burst, is as it should be: tiny morsels of octopus marinated in a lot of wasabi and a little sugar and soy, to be wrapped in super-crisp nori and crunched. They also do a credible kalbi: Korean grilled beef short ribs infused with sugar, soy and garlic.

Yakiudon, which is a big Toronto go-to dish, should have been picture-perfect. After all, who messes up noodles in this noodle-mad town? The noodles are slightly mushy, their beef garnish gristly, and the sauce bland. The sashimi salad is better — nicely dressed, but it takes a bit of a search party to find the eensy pieces of raw fish under all the lettuce.

Do we like banana tempura, a.k.a. deep-fried bananas with green tea ice cream? For sure, when the cladding is as gossamer as tempura ought to be, and the flash fry at ultra-high heat obviates any possibility of grease. Not so much this rendition. Disappointment is a funny thing. It’s all about managing expectations. Had I not been looking for the sun, the moon and the stars at the famous and beloved Guu from Vancouver, I might have liked it.

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Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cordon Bleu de Cuisine in Paris. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Maclean’s and Chatelaine. Follow her on Twitter @JoanneKates.

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