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Tucked away on Thurlow just south of Robson is Guu, a Japanese Izakaya — or, I should say the Japanese Izakaya — restaurant. It’s sort of like the Japanese version of a bistro, serving tapas-sized dishes that pair sinfully well with all sorts of alcoholic beverages. In this case, beer and sake would be the beverages of choice. There are numerous Izakaya’s now: Ping’s Cafe, Kingyo’s, Hapa Izakaya. But before all the hype, there was Guu (formerly Raku).
Everyone’s dining experience is different. It’s the sum of environment, atmosphere, friends, service and of course the food. I’ve always had fond memories of Guu. During our college days, a group of us would stumble into the claustrophobic madhouse and order our meals by pointing our fingers at the uniquely chicken scratched daily menus. Back then, most of the wait staff spoke little English and would holler out the orders in rapid, shrill-pitched Japanese to the chefs in the back. They still holler out the orders in Japanese, but these days most staff speak English well enough to accommodate the ever increasing number of non-Japanese patrons.
Case and I like to come here on a Friday night, which is a monumental undertaking if you aren’t prepared for the line ups. They open at 5:30 sharp. 5 minutes later than that and you’ll be standing in line for your table. As soon as you enter, you’re greeted by the staff with a thunderous chorus. This place is alive; the energy infectious. Unless we’re with a larger party, Case and I prefer to sit up at the bar: right in front of the chefs; right in the path of destruction; right where all the action is. Half the joy of Guu is watching the chefs methodically and meticulously execute each order with precision and heart. Whether you’re watching the wok chef furiously toss the Cha Han over roaring flames; or the grill guy sticking skewers of bacon-wrapped asparagus into the radiating salamander — you’re witnessing a well-oiled machine; the perfect kitchen.
Guu has a few classics. The Cha Han is Kimchi fried rice: finely shredded pieces of Kimchi are skillfully stir fried with scallions and scrambled egg until the rice is coated in a fiery red hue. The bacon asparagu is just as it sounds, stalks of asparagus lovingly wrapped in slices of fatty bacon, skewered, and grilled to heavenly crispness. They have beautiful fresh oysters: sweet and juicy and served with a spicy ponzu sauce for an extra kick. The stewed pork is melt-in-your-mouth tender, served in a light broth with a chunk of daikon radish and a dab of fresh mustard. I also recommend checking out their daily specials which range from grilled fresh fishes to imaginatively prepared shellfish.
Guu is what dining should be: a joy for all the senses. Your eyes are dazzled by the skilled knife and wok-work of the chefs; your ears are serenaded by the cacaphony of patrons and staff; your nose is blessed by the fragrant scents eminating from the kitchen; and your tongue samples a little taste of heaven.