When it opened in Toronto’s Church/Gerrard area late last year, Guu izakaya attracted the sort of instant, madhouse crowd that’s the envy of all restaurateurs.
They don’t take reservations, and are insanely popular, so go early or expect a wait of up to two hours (seriously).
On weekends, Guu (a branch of the highly successful Vancouver mini-chain) is a zoo..
And is the food worth waiting for? Absolutely.
Izakaya is the Japanese version of a pub, an informal, neighbourhood restaurant serving small plates of casual fare (but no nigiri sushi or maki rolls).
Large communal tables dominate the mid-sized, high-ceilinged room, which also features seats at two eating bars, and, along one wall, tables for two. Surfaces are hard and unforgiving, further discouraging lingering.
On the raw side, a good bet is the seared tuna tataki, served with a slightly puckery ponzu sauce and crunchy/sweet garlic chips.
Salmon natto yuke sees raw pieces of fish festooned with seven garnishes, including green onion, raw egg yolk and natto, the funky fermented-soybean dish that many (including myself) find unappealing.
I ask the kitchen to omit it, and scoop up the resulting natto-less salmon mixture, tuck it into seaweed sheets, wrap tightly and inhale.
On the cooked side, standouts include cold spinach cloaked with thick, intensely nutty black-sesame sauce, and tiny, delicate octopus detonated with chopped wasabi stems.
Grilled black cod, though, is overcooked and seared scallops are undone by a salty soy-garlic butter.
It’s a fun, noisy place, filled with Ryerson University kids and graced with relentlessly cheery and efficient staff, who shout out good-natured greetings and farewells to customers.
Just remember to arrive by 6:30 p.m. (on weekends, earlier is even better; the restaurant opens at 5:00 p.m.) – or bring a lawn chair and a book.
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Guu Izakaya packs them in, night after night.