Guu with Garlic (Robson, Vancouver)

Restaurant: Guu with Garlic
Cuisine: Japanese/Tapas/Fusion/Izakaya
Last visited: March 18, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Robson/West End/Downtown)
Address: 1698 Robson Street
Price Range: $10-20, $20-30 (Average bill $25 without drinks)

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 4.5
Service: 3.5
Ambiance: 4
Overall: 4.5
Additional comments:

  • Japanese Izakaya
  • Guu Restaurant Group
  • 6 locations – different menus
  • Japanese chefs/staff
  • Traditional Japanese
  • Fusion/creative dishes
  • Daily fresh sheet
  • Focus on garlic
  • Good for drinks/tapas
  • Creative cocktails
  • Very busy/crowded/lively
  • Local favourite
  • Popular to Japanese/locals/tourists
  • Reasonably priced
  • Casual/Open late
  • Dinner service only
  • Mon-Sun 5:30pm-12am
  • Guu Thurlow
  • Guu Aberdeen
  • Guu With Otokomae

**Recommendations: Tako Wasabi, Salmon Yukke, Kakuni, Beef Tataki, Grilled Mackerel

Garlic stinks? I say “Garlic smells sexy!”
As you know, our food is mostly taste of garlic.
Garlic is good, make you healthy and beautiful!
Yeah! Garlic is always good with sake too!

I had to insert that quote from the Guu with Garlic website because it’s freaking hilarious. Only the Japanese can get away with saying that without sounding stupid. Actually the first part Paris Hilton could say it too, but whether or not she’d sound stupid saying it… I’ll leave that up to you.

Guu is one of the most successful izakaya restaurants in Vancouver, BC. I think the popularity of izakaya in Vancouver actually started with them too. With five unique locations in Metro Vancouver, it also just opened its first location in Toronto last year. Besides the good food, part of the reason I think it does so well is because it offers one of the best values for izakaya. I don’t know why izakaya is so expensive and it really sucks too because it’s one of my favourite cuisines. This style of restaurant and food is considered so causal in Japan, but in Vancouver the concept is a bit glorified.

I’ve been to Guu with Garlic on a few occasions, Guu in Aberdeen in Richmond a couple times, and Guu with Otokomae in Gastown once, and so far all of them have been pleasant experiences. It’s definitely a local favourite and it’s just as popular with the locals as it is with the tourists, and even the Japanese.

Each Guu location actually offers a different concept and all the menus vary at each one with some overlap of popular items. They offer traditional Japanese tapas as well as some creative fusion dishes and daily fresh sheets that change rather often. It’s not my favourite izakaya place in Metro Vancouver, but I do really like it and the food is very good for what you pay for. It’s definitely not a place I would complain about coming for dinner, and it’s probably in my top 5 choices for izakaya.

Guu with Garlic is their location that focuses on garlic. So it’s probably not the best place to go for a first date, but it sure is guu’d for any other casual occasion. Although garlic is supposed to be heavily used here, I actually didn’t notice it being any more emphasized here than at any of their other locations. It just depends on what you order. The food was good as usual, but there is better of most of the dishes they offer, although that comes with paying a couple more dollars for it elsewhere.

On the table:

**Tako Wasabi 5/6

  • Marinated octopus & wasabi stem $3.50
  • It’s a pretty classic dish to order along side beer. I’m not a beer drinker, but I still enjoy this.
  • At first it may be acquired, but it gets addicting once your familiar with the dish. It’s definitely for wasabi lovers.
  • It’s Japanese style ceviche, so the raw octopus is “cooked” and marinated in Japanese pickles, fresh wasabi and some fresh seaweed.
  • It’s super slippery and slimy and the octopus was still tender and not chewy. It’s a rather crunchy dish with all the ingredients and octopus, and it’s eaten with sheets of salty crispy dried seaweed served along side.
  • It’s tangy and has a bold kick of freshly grated and chopped wasabi stems with perhaps a little hot mustard.
  • It has that wasabi burn, which I like, but the kick was pretty strong and it almost got me tearing up a bit.
  • I usually have simpler versions of this, but I really enjoyed this one. I also like the one from Hapa Izakaya and Koto Izakaya Sushi & Robata.

Sashimi Salad 4/6

  • Assorted daily fresh sashimi on bed of greens, plum dressing & wasabi mayo $6.50
  • The salad was fresh but the sashimi pieces weren’t as great.
  • I actually like the Sashimi Salad from Hapa Izakaya more, but this one is more affordable, and for what you get it’s pretty good value.
  • The mixed greens are mixed with iceberg lettuce and it’s topped with shredded daikon.
  • The salad dressing was a tangy citrus ponzu plum vinaigrette that was more tangy than sweet and it was pretty delicious.
  • I couldn’t taste the wasabi in the mayo at all though.

  • It came with about 4 slices of seared tuna, 4 thin slices of salmon and a raw prawn.
  • The sashimi wasn’t quality sashimi (hence the tuna being seared), but for a salad and the price it was fine.

**Kakuni – 4/6

  • Stewed pork belly, daikon, with poached egg and steamed bun $6.30
  • This tasted really Chinese to me and reminded me of a stewed and pickled Chinese pork hock dish. It must be influenced by Chinese cuisine.
  • I didn’t know how to eat it and it was like a deconstructed sandwich sitting in a bowl of hot soup/sauce.
  • It was my first time ordering it and it was like a pork belly version of a beef dip.
  • It was a very saucy, soupy and messy dish to eat, but it was delicious!
  • It made sense to break the yolk in the soup and I think the soup should have been hotter to “cook” it. I actually would have preferred the egg fried with a runny yolk, or half boiled like they serve with ramen.
  • I sandwiched pieces of the pork belly into the soft and steamed Chinese Mantou bun, and then dipped it in the hot soup and runny egg yolk so it added a creamy richness.
  • It’s definitely a sweet dish and the soup was honey like with some savoury soy sauce and tang of mirin (rice vinegar + sugar). There’s also a hinder of sweet pickled ginger and licorice as well. It’s not spicy, but I could taste the infusion of ginger and perhaps star anise in the background of the soup.
  • It was a very complex soup and not just made with pork jus and it was predominantly sweet.
  • The soup was a bit too greasy to drink, but it was delicious dipping the bread into it and making a pork belly sandwich.

  • The pork belly was a huge piece! It was also topped with Japanese hot mustard to cut through the grease and also contrast the sweetness.
  • It was very well marinated and stewed probably since the morning, but the meat wasn’t necessarily moist.
  • The leaner parts were a bit dry, but the fat was creamy and melt in your mouth tender and not gelatinous.
  • It was served with so much soup though that it could get away with being on the drier side.
  • There was a super soft and tender daikon (radish) which was a nice clean and simple flavour to balance out the indulgent pork belly and egg yolk.
  • Overall it was an excellent dish and perfect comfort food.

Sato Imo2/6

  • Panko breaded taro potato croquette $4
  • I really love croquettes and one of my favourites is the Crab Croquette from Hapa Izakaya. I’m not comparing them, but I was still expecting much more from this.
  • The croquette was well fried with a crispy exterior, but the filling was really plain and almost bland. I didn’t get much taro flavour at all and it seemed more like potato and flour.
  • The filling was very creamy without much texture and at times it was almost wet, and I expected it to be much denser with taro root.
  • I thought there would be other ingredients mixed in or maybe some cheese as well (which is typical for Japanese croquette), but there was none.
  • It was served with a mix of Tonkotsu sauce (Japanese BBQ sauce) that carries a bold Worcestershire kick as well as a Thousand Island mayo like dressing. The combination of the sauces are really tangy, bold and creamy and it’s almost always a great combination, but the croquettes weren’t great to start.
  • I’ve had better croquettes from Guu like their original Pumpkin Croquette, or even better Deep Fried Japanese Sweet Potato & Cheese Croquette.

Yaki Udon 2.5/6

  • Pan-fried udon with beef, mushroom, green onion, soy sauce and butter $7.80
  • The udon noodles were really fresh, smooth, creamy and soft yet not overcooked. That was the best part.
  • The beef slices weren’t well marinated or great quality and the mushrooms and onions could have been cooked a bit longer.
  • The dish was very under seasoned and the only saltiness I got was more or less from the dried seaweed sprinkled on top.
  • The butter added a creamy slippery coating to the udon noodles, but it wasn’t greasy at all, or was the butter flavour even that obvious.
  • It could have used more soy sauce and even some garlic for more flavour.
  • I liked the Kinoku Yakiudon at Gyoza King just down a block better.

Gin Dara4/6

  • Miso marinated black cod with miso mayo $8.50
  • After having one of the best, if not the best, Gin Dara (Sablefish) at Aki Japanese Restaurant, it’s very hard to go back to anything else.
  • Black cod is almost impossible to screw up and it’s so damn delicious that it almost always starts off at a 4/6. Therefore the one here is very good, but compared to other ones I’ve had at Japanese places it was probably just a 3.5/6.
  • The cod was savoury and well marinated in miso, but its natural flavours still came through.
  • The sablefish was moist, tender, flaky, super juicy and buttery, but the skin wasn’t crispy at all and it lacked that charcoal smoky robata flavour.
  • The miso mayo on top just tasted like plain Japanese mayo, so I could have used more miso in that. I actually like the miso sauce on the sablefish at Hapa Izakaya more, although it’s a bit too salty and also more expensive.
  • It was served with grated daikon salad on the side which was a nice to balance out the creamy buttery sablefish.

**Grilled “Saba” Mackerel4.5/6

  • With sliced onion, dill, garlic $7.80
  • This was delicious and the most garlicky dish of the night!
  • It was a huge piece of boneless mackerel served on a hot iron plate. With a bowl of rice or a side of udon this could have easily been a meal for one.
  • The Mackerel skin looked like wallpaper and there was something very artificial looking about it, but it was so much better than it looks… although it doesn’t look bad.
  • Mackerel is a firm flaky white fish and it has a strong fish flavour and it works well with bolder and stronger sauce.
  • The skin was ultra crispy and the meat was tender, moist and flaky and the garlic chips added a nutty and crispy crunch that worked so well with the savoury and syrupy sauce.
  • It was grilled on top of slices of lemon so the lemon brought a nice citrus and fresh tang to the fish and the sauce.
  • The dill was only used more as a garnish and its flavours didn’t infuse into anything.
  • The sauce was a bit too salty, but I still enjoyed it. It was very savory and also sweet and tangy and it tasted like a tangy Teriyaki sauce.
  • I loved the crunchy sweet onions and the tomatoes were random, probably used for colour, but still enjoyed.

Gyu Tan 3/6

  • Grilled beef tongue with salt and green onion $4.80
  • The tongue was chewy and it had resistance and almost came across as pork cheek in texture.
  • It was grilled medium rare and it was seasoned well with black pepper, but it wasn’t tender.
  • Beef tongue should be super soft and smooth, it’s a very lean meat that isn’t gamey. This one just tasted like a very mediocre quality steak and it was quite tough.
  • I liked the one at Kingyo better because the tongue is sliced paper thin and it just melts in your mouth.
  • The redeeming factor for this one was the sauce or onion salsa it was served with.
  • The onion sauce was crunchy, refreshing, salty and tangy to the grilled tongue.
  • There was tons of fresh garlic and some fresh lime juice in it so it cut through the heaviness of the beef and oil.
  • 2/6 for the beef tongue and 4/6 for the sauce. If the tongue was tender it would have been great!
  • Definitely be prepared for garlic breath after this!

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22 Comments

  • Bow says:

    Wonder if the Kakuni would taste better with deep fried Mantou? the crisp shell would contrast better with a very soft pork belly. The richness of sablefish doesn’t need mayo, mebbe a hot ginger/blood orange oil, the citrus would cut the oiliness of the sablefish without detracting from the exquiste flavour this fish has(mayo is too predominating for a great piece of fish). The Sato Imo could do without Tonkatu sauce(never found Japanese sauces to have much depth of flavour, find Ponzu, etc. too thick, too sweet for the dish…always dominates so you really can’t taste the food). How about putting a sauce inside the croquette to suprise the dinner like a mild cream with horseradish ?…the white not the green. Hard to have tender beef tongue without simmering it till it’s tender, but then it would look grey…a thin slice, pounded, marinated would be tender if grilled. These pieces are a bit thick. Pics look better and better.

  • Linda says:

    Ok i have to admit, i know lots of ppl really love izakaya, but i’m not really a fan of it lol (i think i just heard you screech! lol) BUT with that in mind, I actually really like Guu – there are so many locations now, even one almost next to my work place and I can see how it’s become so popular 🙂

    ooo tako! but having it raw is a bit scary to me – i still remember watching a vid of you eating some raw ones in korea and having them stick to the roof of your mouth – that’s the first thing i thought of when i saw this pic lol but having them ceviche style sounds very interesting!

    OMG i love the sashimi salad but what I can’t get over is the raw prawn – think i’m just freaked out of eating that raw because I can see its head lol the pork belly dish looks good though – the raw egg in soup combination reminds me of shabu shabu – we made it last year at home and the soup wasn’t hot enough to cook the egg either 🙂

    i’m sad that the sato wasn’t that great – i love taro! seems like guu is really good with seafood items which is great for a japanese establishment – i hope they can improve upon their other meat dishes 🙂 still though, i love guu!

  • 4SlicesofCheese says:

    Mmmm that grilled saba looks amazing too bad they are not open for lunch…
    And its almost lunch time now, stomach is growling.

  • Mijune says:

    @Bow – hmmm I question of the deep fried bun would make the dish too greasy, but the contrast would have been nice. The bun did get very soggy at the end. I would definitely want to try a deep fried version with Kakuni though.

    I agree with you on that… they always put mayo on it which is a very North American style of enjoying it. Not authentic at all… but here we go with the idea of “authentic”… sable fish is buttery enough anyways you’re right.

    Horseradish would be great! I just wanted some corn in there too.. I needed something more!! Mmm the Chinese deep fried taro root stuffed with minced meet is much better.

    Thanks for the pic comment! I’m definitely trying after eating with Sherman so much lol.

    @Linda WHAT??! you don’t LOVE izakaya?!?! Nooo!! lollll!! I read your comment sentence by sentence to reply and I JUST read “heard you screech”… LOL you “know” me so well!! 🙂

    hmm try the tako raw it doesn’t move like one I had in Korea =p…. share it with a group so you can have a bite but you need to be mentally prepared for it to be slimy. Ok… now I just read your Korean comment on me… seriously girl, we are on the SAME page!!

    I LOVE taro too!!! I love YOU too lol!!! I totally look forward to your comments! 🙂

  • Bow says:

    The deep fried Mantou is only slightly crispy(not greasy) on the outside; the inside is very soft and pillowy.

  • Kathy says:

    I always get the Pumpkin Ball at Guu! It’s the best!

  • Linda says:

    i look forward to your posts everyday!~ keep them coming – i love your posts!

    @bow – pillowy is such a great way to describe it! pillowy!

  • Mijune says:

    @4SlicesofCheese – I have come here to often for lunch to forget that they are closed!! so annoying! You think I’d remember! #fail

    @Bow – good point! I like with condensed milk!

    @Kathy – lol I’ve written about that in my Aberdeen post! I like the hard boiled egg inside, but the Thousand Island dressing I’m never to crazy about.

    @Linda – 🙂 x

  • WS says:

    So do the Guu locations in Vancouver take reservations? The two Guu locations in Toronto both don’t take reservations. The second Guu location in Toronto just opened about 10 days ago. The one similarity between the Guu Vancouver & Toronto locations is that each location offers a different concept, & menus vary. I haven’t eaten at any Guu location, so I can’t comment on their food.

  • Mijune says:

    @WS – Hmm that’s a good question, I’m actually not sure! they definitely don’t need too because they’re always so busy. I bet the Richmond location in Metro Vancouver takes resos though! Oh you should try it! I’m VERY curious to see how the one in TO compares to the one in Vancouver as well. I better make it across to TO to try it too!!

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