Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Guu Izakaya Restaurant

People who like Japanese food are talking about Guu, the Japanese chain of izakaya restaurants. There is a big buzz because it is difficult to get a table because of the restaurant's no reservations policy. Knowing this in advance, I was at the restaurant promptly at 5pm. It was closed, and although they advise that they opened at 5pm, the doors did not open until 5:15pm. By that time there were 10 of us waiting.  Even then, we were only allowed in one party at a time and there was about a 4 to 5 minute wait between entrances, all accompanied by multiple wild yellings of Japanese greetings. So, what is the fuss about? Is it worth the trouble of the wait?

On entering the restaurant, I was greeted by the usual yelled greetings from the kitchen staff and escorted to a communal table where a daily specials menu and a routine a la carte menu were presented. Throughout the meal the kitchen or wait staff would go about their ruckus outbursts on the occasions of people coming in, going, or the service of some special dish. This initially made for a fun but noisy dinner which eventually wore our patience thin. We ordered a daiginjo saki ("life is too short to drink cheap wine") which turned out to be pleasantly floral and delicate. The perfect complement to very fresh raw fish.

We began with exceptionally fresh and sweet Hokkaido scallops with a mild wasabi dressing. This was my favourite dish of the evening!

Our following dish was another favourite, salmon natto yukke: chopped salmon sashimi with a chopped melange of natto (fermented soybeans), shibuzake (pickled eggplant), takuan (pickled daikon radish), chopped cucumber, winton chips, garlic chips, green onion and a raw egg, to be eaten with rectangular nori (seaweed) strips. This dish was nicely presented with each ingredient separated in a bowl. Then, the waiter chopped and mixed everything together into a colourful but gooey mass, to be eaten with the nori. For those of you unfamiliar with natto, the fermented soybeans have an unfamiliar but strong flavour, are very slimy to the touch, and are covered with a clear slime......not very appetizing, but very tasty to me and many Japanese.

A course of ama ebi, sweet cold water shrimp and uni, sea urchin followed. both were very good. most of the sea urchin was fresh, but 2 pieces were "melted" somewhat and somewhat less than fresh.

A very fresh octopus "carpaccio" was served with a highly complementary and mildly tarte yuzu ( a cross in taste between yellow grapefruit and mild mandarin orange) and wasabi sauce, beautifully presented with chopped scallion and topped with thinly sliced daikon radish and seaweed. This was my second favourite dish.

A tough textured grilled beef tongue with salt followed. tongue should be very tender so this dish was disappointing.  Then, grilled pork cheek with salt and yuzu pepper followed, and the texture was as it should be. A good dish, but the restaurant does better with it's seafood courses.

Our next course was oyster kakimayo, grilled with spinach, garlic mayo and cheese. This was a satisfying combination of flavours.

We also liked the salt and pepper grilled short ribs, which were very tender and came with a flattering green onion sauce.

The following course, grilled whole surume squid with schichimi pepper ( a Japanese melange of several ingredients, principally ground red chili pepper, and then smaller amounts of ground madarin orange or yuzu peel, ground poppy and sesame seeds and ginger). Unfortunately the squid was a bit overcooked and dried out.

Our next dish was a very tasty piece of nicely grilled black cod with saikyo miso, white wine sauce. One can't go wrong with this course if you enjoy a piece of grilled fish.

Our dessert was a delicious and wonderfully creamy custard of almond tofu with cinnamon and nutmeg flavoured pumpkin cheesecake. we loved the dessert!
So, was it worth waiting in line for? If you only have to wait for 15 minutes, yes, but a long wait would not be worth it.

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