Kitanoya Guu with Otokomae
Drinking, especially post-work drinking is the most prominent activity in Japan. It plays a big part of the culture. Every day thousands of white collar workers crowd into bars and restaurants to have brew and food. These establishments are called ‘Izakaya’s’ and they are casual places meant for after-work drinking. There are a number of restaurants in Vancouver that bill themselves as ‘Izakaya’ style restaurants. But don’t mistake these for simply Japanese pubs as they are food-centric and even non-drinkers can enjoy a solid meal. One of the popular establishments in Vancouver is Kitanoya Guu or as it’s more commonly known as Guu.
With today being a work day and with the possibility of a trip to Japan being just around the corner, I thought why not get into the spirit by going for some good Japanese food. And what better way to do that then by going to an Izakaya? A friend of mine suggested Guu and off we went.
Guu was first opened in the downtown core just off Thurlow and Haro in 1993. Guu is well known for being the very first Izakaya restaurant to open its doors in Vancouver. Today they have 6 locations throughout the city each one being slightly different than the other. Today we visited ‘Guu with Otokomae’.
This restaurant has a very ‘pub-like’ feel, laid back and casual yet still retaining a level of sophistication. This isn’t a restaurant where you feel like you would be under-dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. Upon entering the restaurant, you’re presented with the bar with its spotlighting and broad wooden counters – where it actually makes this one of the better places in the restaurant to enjoy a meal and drinks. On the ‘second floor’ we have the ‘picnic table’ style seating. I wasn’t impressed with this and it wasn’t so much the chairs I had problems with, but that the tables were extremely sticky. I’m not sure why, it could be the finishing but I found myself being bugged by it throughout the dinner as I could never really rest my hand or arm on the table without noticing it.
This being Izakaya, we ordered five dishes which was enough for the two of us to be satiated. These were all ordered off of their special menu and not their regular menu. I am sure they rotate these out every few months but I would expect the level of quality to remain the same.
The first dish that arrived was the Tontoro and being a fan of pork cheeks and garlic I had to try it. I found this dish bland and generic tasting. It just didn’t stand out to me. There was very little garlic flavor and the dish was cold. The meat did have a sweet quality from the marinade, and for people who are fans of korean bbq and sweet barbecued (bbq) meats in general will especially enjoy this one.
Next up was the Ikamaru or marinated bbq squid with garlic ginger soy sauce and chili pepper mayo sauce. I also have a love for squid so I had to try this. The marinate took well to the squid and it tasted well enough on its own. The squid wasn’t overcooked but was beginning to get rubbery towards the end. The highlight of this dish was the mayo – the chili pepper mayo was not spicy but it gave the mayo a kick and brought life to the squid. We ended up dipping the pork cheek into the mayo because the pork cheek itself lacked flavor.
The third dish was the Ebi Marine. A salad of marinated black tiger prawns with tomatoes, avocado, and fried noodles topped with a Japanese style sauce. This dish was good but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. The sauce and the prawns were already sweet and with the addition of vegetables and fruits soaked in a sweet sauce – I found it it to be overly sweet. It was a nice salad but it was just too much sweetness for my taste.
This is the crab and shrimp cream gratin croquette and was the night’s stand out dish to me. The dish is aesthetically simple – two crab and shrimp croquettes sitting in a pool of sweet chili mayo. Inside this ball of deep fried goodness is a creamy mixture of crab meat, shrimp, pasta, corn, and parsley. Biting into it, the crusty outside breaks down to reveal the creamy mixture within. The combination of these ingredients form a sweet and succulent flavor.
Finally we had the Guu Yaki Udon which was tasty but nothing outstanding.
All considered, it is not surprising that this is a popular establishment for fans of Japanese cuisine. Our meal came out to approximately 30 dollars including taxes and beer per person. I was happy with the taste and quality of the food and the service given the price I paid. As much as I criticized each dish, I did enjoy them and I would come here again if I find myself yearning for this type of atmosphere.