Guu (Original Izakaya location – Thurlow Street)

Restaurant: Guu
Cuisine: Japanese/Izakaya/Fusion/Tapas
Last visited: April 17, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Robson Street/West End/Downtown)
Address: 838 Thurlow Street
Price Range: $10-20 (Average bill $25 without drinks)

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

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

  • The original Guu location
  • Japanese owned and operated
  • 6 locations – different menus
  • Great for drinking
  • Japanese Izakaya/tapas
  • Daily fresh sheet
  • Fresh sashimi
  • Busy/popular
  • Local favourite
  • Lively atmosphere
  • Named “Best Casual Japanese”
  • Lunch Mon-Sat 11:40am – 1:40pm
  • Dinner Mon – Sat 5:30pm – 12:30am
  • Sun 5:30pm – 12am
  • Guu with Garlic
  • Guu Aberdeen
  • Guu with Otokomae

**Recommendations: Tako Wasabi, Salmon Yukke, Kakuni, Beef Tataki, Grilled Mackerel, Kimchi Udon, BBQ Eel & Season Mushroom “Rice Gratin”

“This is a short trip to Tokyo.
Don’t worry about things in your life.
Get drunk and have fun! Our friendly staffs will help you to forget everything!” – Guu

I get a kick out of their quotes! They’re great! So there are now five locations for Guu in Metro Vancouver and even one in Toronto. Each one has a different concept and slightly different menu, so I can always expect something new. The quote above represents their Thurlow restaurant, which is the first and original Guu location and where it all began.

Although each location offers a different theme, I do feel that I’m holding onto what Guu used to be, which is a bit better than what it is now. I do still really like Guu, but I feel they’re not trying as hard, or I’m eating at the wrong location, or there are just so many izakaya options in Metro Vancouver now that standards have gone up. Regardless, I hate going into a restaurant I like, having high expectations for it, and then coming out unsatisfied, and that’s what happened here.

It was only about a month ago that I dined at Guu with Garlic on Robson, so I don’t know if my visits were too close, but the menus were almost the same and I wasn’t really inspired by anything being offered at this location. The fresh sheet didn’t even sound too appealing for my tastes and it just seemed to lack creativity, variety, and even flavour. For some reason everything I tried on this occasion was on the blander side and fell flat.

Guu also recently won “Best Casual Japanese” at the Vancouver Restaurant Awards hosted by Vancouver Magazine this year, and it is considered a local favourite. The atmosphere is casual and energetic and representable of the authentic izakaya places in Japan, so I do appreciate the ambiance. The food is also good, as I’m a huge fan of izakaya anyways, except for the fact that it a method of dining that adds up quickly. Guu Izakaya is one of the most affordable izakaya options in Metro Vancouver though, so it wins in the “best value” cateogry for me, but just not necessarily best food.

On the table:

**Salmon Yuke – 4/6

  • Chopped salmon with garlic sauce, green onion and pine nuts $4.80
  • I really wish I didn’t have the original version to compare to, but it used to be so much better!
  • The Salmon Yuke used to look like this, until they downgraded it into what it is now. It still tastes very good, relative to everything else, but it’s not nearly as good as it was before.
  • There were only 2 lonely pine nuts and they served it like this for every order. I watched. C’mon! Downgrade to a more affordable nut in that case!
  • You mix the quail’s egg with the cubes of chopped salmon sashimi and mix it all together. You spoon it into the prawn chips and it’s delicious!
  • The big cubes of salmon sashimi isn’t the greatest quality, but when it’s all super saucy in a sweet and savoury garlic marinade it doesn’t really matter.
  • The ‘salmon tartare’ ends up being creamy and a bit rich and jelly like from the raw quail’s egg, so the prawn chip gives it a nice contrasting crunch.
  • I loved the concept, but they could do so much more with it and I prefer the Salmon Yuke at Gyoza King, although alm0st double the price, and I still do like the prawn chips.
  • Totally different, but similar in style is the Tuna Avo Salsa Dip I love at Hapa Izakaya – Kitsilano.
  • Another one is the Sashimi Wrap at Charcoal Sushi & BBQ Restaurant which is also very good, but pricey.

Gyu Tan3/6

  • Grilled beef tongue with salt and green onion $4.80
  • I had the same order of Gyu Tan at Guu with Garlic, but it was well seasoned and the green onion sauce was better there. On the other hand the beef tongue wasn’t tender at either location.
  • If you’ve never had beef tongue it should taste like really tender and soft beef if well executed.
  • This one is sliced thin, but it was bland and a bit chewy and not as tender as it should be.
  • It was also a tad too oily and it needed more garlic in the toppings to cut through the grease.

**BBQ Eel & Seasonal Mushroom “Rice Gratin”4/6

  • $7.80
  • This is a Japanese style casserole and it was delicious. Great savoury and sweet flavours and a generous portion.
  • They’re pre-made and pre-cooked and just baked upon order and served piping hot.
  • It’s melted cheese on soy sauce marinated sushi rice, so the rice is moist and flavourful alone.
  • I really enjoyed this and the only thing is that I wish the cheesy “gratin” crust was crispy. Some Panko crumbs in the topping would be nice to make it extra crispy too.
  • It was cooked with some sauteed Button, Oyster and Shiitake mushrooms, but there wasn’t much. They added sweetness, texture and flavour to the rice and of course went perfectly with the melted cheese.
  • There were about 2-3 large pieces of eel on top of the rice which was tender, sweet and moist.
  • It was covered with a generous amount of ooey gooey stringy Cheddar and Mozzarella cheese mix, so it tasted like a cheesy tuna casserole.
  • It was drizzled with a sweet unagi (eel) sauce and topped with bonito (dried fish) flakes, shredded nori and fresh green onion to cut through the grease a bit.
  • It was savoury, sweet, cheesy, indulgent, rich and very flavourful. There was a lot of rice and it could have used more ingredients, but I still liked it regardless.

Ton Toro3/6

  • Grilled pork cheek & yuzu ponzu $6.20
  • The pork cheek was really oily and again very bland and I only had a couple pieces, and then gave up.
  • It needed lots of the yuzu ponzu sauce to not only give it flavour, but to cut the grease.
  • It was quite tender, with a springy resistance, but for Ton Toro (which can either be cheek, belly, or any other fatty parts of meat) I prefer the one at Gyoza King a bit more – see here.
  • The sauce was a very tangy citrus vinaigrette and I really liked it, but it’s just a bit boring, although suited the description.

Gin Dara3.5/6

  • Miso marinated Black Cod with Miso mayo $8.50
  • I love sablefish and I almost always order it even though it’s the easiest fish to make. It’s so oily and buttery that’s it’s 99% always good.
  • The miso mayo was really thick, tangy and sweet and it was really different from the miso mayo on the same Gin Dara at Guu with Garlic. This one was stronger and creamier.
  • They also didn’t serve it with the minced daikon salad which is quite standard. They even did it at Guu with Garlic.
  • The sablefish was buttery, naturally oily, moist, juicy and marinated in miso and sake which made it a bit sweeter.
  • The skin was not crispy at all which was disappointing since that’s one of the best parts.
  • There were some bones in the fish which I won’t ding them for, but they shouldn’t be there.
  • I say it all the time, but once you have the sablefish at Aki Japanese, a more traditional version though, it changes everything.

**Kimchi Udon4/6

  • Udon with spicy cod roe, soy sauce, butter, kimchi, and green onion $7.80
  • I enjoyed this very much. It was a somewhat creamy and sticky stir-fried udon with cod roe that coated each noodle giving it a salty fishy after taste and flavour.
  • The noodles were chewy and tender and the cod roe isn’t crunchy since it’s cooked, but it did give the udon a unique texture that was almost like a smooth yet grainy soft paste.
  • The kimchi wasn’t fermented/pickled enough so it was spicy, but not tangy. It did serve its purpose after it was mixed into the udon though giving it some crunch and spice.
  • It wasn’t a dry fried noodle, but it wasn’t saucy either even given the added butter and soy sauce. The butter comes unnoticed and it’s not greasy or anything.
  • It was moist (probably from the butter), mildly spicy (only from the kimchi), fishy in flavour and the salty shredded nori and fresh green onions made for a nice topping.
  • It was a good portion with good flavour, although quite simple.
  • My favourite is the Mentaiko Udon at Alpha Global Sushi & Bar which is a more traditional Japanese version that also uses cod roe and udon.

Grilled Salmon Head with Salt3.5/6

  • $4
  • This was delicious, but again it was really bland and under seasoned. I also wish it was crispy, charred and smoky from the grilling process.
  • On the other hand, it was cooked for just the right amount of time and the salmon was incredibly buttery, moist and even juicy.
  • The salmon head normally has tons of flavour, but the meat was so flaky and tender and juicy like a sablefish. It’s one of the moistest salmons I’ve had to date.
  • The salmon cheek is the best part, so go for that. The cheek of any fish is actually the best part though.
  • It was huge too and I think more than reasonably priced. Despite it being bland, I’d order it again.

Grilled Chicken Wings with Japanese Pepper2.5/6

  • $5.90 Half order: $2.95 (I don’t know why they only offered this in 1/2 order)
  • I could see the Japanese Pepper and seasoning, but it was still under seasoned and somewhat boring.
  • The chicken was chewy and the skin wasn’t crispy or char grilled in flavour or texture.
  • It had a mild spicy heat at the end from the chili pepper seasoning, but it wasn’t anything special.

Pan Fried Pork Intestine w/Spicy Garlic Sauce1/6

  • $5.80
  • Eek! I’m not an intestine fan.
  • It’s just way too pungent and gamey for me and the smell makes me want to pass out more than durian does.
  • I still ate a piece and it tastes like what it smells like. I describe the smell as the release of a pig’s hormone when he knows he’s about to die 🙁
  • It’s super chewy and gelatinous but the sauce was quite tasty; but it’s just a garlic soy teriyaki like sauce with some sesame oil and seeds.
  • It was served with some spicy sauce on the side, but nothing could mask the super gamey smell and flavour that is certainly acquired, and not for me.

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8 Comments

  • Linda says:

    mm Guu! Guu was actually one of my first times eating at an izakaya place – i went to the ones one robson street and the one in gastown and for izakaya, i don’t mind it too much… i’m not really a fan of izakaya in general but i think it’s pretty good 🙂

    when i first saw the pic of the salmon yuke, i thought the pine nut on top was a piece of corn lol but wow – 2 pine nuts only eh? you’d think that with the generous portion of fish, there’d be more nuts lol the salmon itself looks overly sauced, especially when you compare your previous visit to this one – looks like spicy salmon sashimi actually 🙂

    the rice gratin reminds me of the baked seafood rice from HK cafes but i’m sure the cheese quality here is much better lol i personally like beef tongue and intestines made in chinese butcher shops – i don’t know what they do to them but they’re delicious! the ton toro looked promising but definitely very fatty from the picture! i’ve made kimchi roe udon at home so i’m a little biased when i see this menu item at restaurants – it’s so cheap to make and i kinda wished guu added more roe so the noodles are redder in color – i’m glad it was delicious though 🙂 if you ever want to make it at home, the recipe is basically butter, roe and then kimchi – cook for 5 mins and then toss in the udon 🙂

    wow, those chicken wings looks poultry haha – i prefer mine a bit darker and are there only 2 pieces?!

  • Bow says:

    Mebbe the problem w. Guu is it’s success. Hard to maintain 5 ops at top quality…I have tasted differences in different locations of a restaurant chain…now one doesn’t want a boring, safe sameness; it’s alright to be different and still maintain a degree of excellence. Competition pushes one harder to improve or stand still. The William Tell didn’t improve, it stood still and is now a dinosaur. Places like the Bistro de Paris, La Gavroche, are being pushed to the brink by newcomers. The Japanese students flock to Guu and Gyoza King…it’s a licence to print money; however I won’t go back to Gyoza King..it’s overpriced, dinner is rushed and the portions are smaller. Santouka Ramen came and put a real crimp in Kintaro’s business. Until there’s a good alternative to Guu, it will start to slide, too busy(service suffers and portions get smaller) and management is now longer challenged…the restaurant landscape is dotted with dinosaurs.
    The beef tongue shouldn’t be oily, and tough…precooking in a broth and then grilling it quickly should result in a nice dish if dusted w. Maldron sea salt, squeeze of lemon and a little Xtra virgin Oro. To my taste I prefer Hamachi robata over Salmon, it has more taste(the jaw meat and cheek is different in texture in both…which is a delight). Pork intestines are best from great Szechuan cuisine…very spicy and crunchy.

  • Mijune says:

    @Linda – good point… never noticed the overly sauced thing, but after it was mixed up it was actually ok! ohhh good call on the baked seafood rice looking like the ones from HK cages.. love those! You like offal huh? Good on you! I can’t love intestines still 🙁 damn that recipe is so easy it makes me not want to order it anymore lol. Yup the 2 pieces of chicken was the half order… for some reason that’s all they were doing?

    @Bow – I agree with you there on the 5 locations and quality control! Mmm I like hamachi as well! I like hamachi raw best… but that’s comparing apples and oranges. You like pork intestine? I’m a bit surprised actually.. well I am and I’m not… I know you don’t like pork liver in congee… so I kind of thought maybe you wouldn’t like the intestines either.. I would much rather have liver than intestines.

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