Guu With Otokomae (Gastown)

Restaurant: Guu With Otokomae
Cuisine: Japanese/Fusion/Tapas/Izakaya/Sashimi
Last visited: August 23, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Downtown)
Address: 375 Water Street (Upstairs)
Price Range: $20-30 (Average bill $25 without drinks)

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

Food: 4.5-5
Service: 3
Ambiance: 3.5
Overall: 5
Additional comments:

  • Since 2003
  • 5 locations in Vancouver (each different)
  • Japanese owned/operated
  • Japanese izakaya/tapas
  • Creative/fusion items
  • Fresh sheets
  • Seasonal menus
  • Very busy/popular
  • Energetic/lively
  • Local & tourist favourite
  • Award winning
  • Affordable Japanese tapas
  • Cocktail/bar
  • Sun – Thu 5pm – 11:30pm
  • Fri – Sat 5pm – 12am
  • Guu with Garlic
  • Guu on Thurlow
  • Guu Aberdeen

**Recommendations: Maguro with 5 Colour Sauce, Japanese Style Ahi Tuna Steak, BBQ Kalbi, and Hot Stone Bowl Sweets. I’ve had the Kimchi Udon and Grilled Black Cod at other Guu locations and I enjoyed those as well. I strongly recommend ordering things one at a time because the food comes out fast and the tables are small.

“Otokomae literally means handsome man or true man in physically and mentally.
Guu with handsome man?
The concept behind its name is a better customer service with attractive contemporary tapas than “authentic” Izakaya.” (Photo and quote from Guu).

Guu has six locations in Metro Vancouver, and two in Toronto, but each location features a different menu and theme. I’ve only tried four of their locations so far, Guu with Garlic on Robson, Guu at Aberdeen, the original location Guu on Thurlow, and now this one in Gastown downtown Vancouver, BC. It’s not really fair to compare them all, but if I had to choose my favourite location, I think this is it because it suited my tastes best.

The Guu restaurants are a solid choice in general, although it’s not my favourite izakaya in the city. I prefer Kingyo or Hapa Izakaya more, but I do find the Guu restaurants to be the most affordable and the best value if you’re craving izakaya. However there’s now Suika, and that’s definitely one of my new favourites for casual Japanese izakaya.

Guu with Otokomae is a popular restaurant that locals and tourists flock to, and although this location isn’t as “traditional izakaya” as their others, it’s still well liked by Japanese locals. The menu is a bit more catered to Western tastes and perhaps a “Gastown crowd”, but I thoroughly enjoyed the menu, presentation, service, and overall experience.

I find it kind of random that they emphasize “better customer service” at this location though. I think better service is something all restaurants should strive for despite the location. If a Cactus Club or a Glowbal Group restaurant clearly emphasized better service at one location, I don’t think people would be as forgiving. Being that Guu is a Japanese owned and operated restaurant, they can say and do almost anything and get away with it because we’ll find it charming instead of offensive… or call it a “lost in translation” thing.

Anyways the food was great and less adventurous in ingredients, but perhaps a bit more “fusion” and creative in flavours. It’s a lively and energetic space, although crowded, and I did find the tables small, so I strongly suggest ordering a couple things at a time because even at their peak hours, the food comes out really fast and at once.

If you want a more authentic Japanese izakaya experience try Guu with Garlic or Guu on Thurlow. The items don’t come out as pretty, and it is more of a drinking hole type of atmosphere, but they do represent authentic izakaya well.

On the table:

Spinach and Sesame3.5/6

  • Blanched spinach dressed with black sesame sauce $3
  • I love goma-ae, and for $3 this is cheaper than most goma-ae offered at any Japanese restaurant.
  • It’s a traditional salad, but they switched it up with house made black sesame dressing instead of the usual white.
  • For the Guu location that’s supposed to be focused on presentation, I wasn’t expecting this!
  • It didn’t look appetizing, but I was still really excited about this tower and puddle of black mud. At least it looked different!

  • It was smothered with lots of goma-ae sauce, which was textured, but not thick or creamy.
  • As much as I love a saucy goma-ae, this one was really salty and I have a high tolerance for salt too.
  • It was made with lots of finely ground black sesame seeds and it was more sesame in flavour than it was peanutty.
  • The sesame seeds weren’t over toasted and bitter, but it was heavy on the tamari (Japanese soy sauce).
  • If it wasn’t so salty I would give it a 4.5/6.

**Maguro with 5 Colour Sauce4.5/6

  • Chopped tuna and avocado with teriyaki, wasabi, mango, cucumber and yuzu pepper sauce topped with green onions, crispy wonton and bean sprouts $6.30
  • I loved the dessert like presentation!
  • This was very creamy and heavy with sauces and mayo, so you have to be okay with that to appreciate this.
  • It was almost like a mashed pate of tuna and it was definitely creamed instead of chopped so the texture was smooth throughout.
  • It was a deceivingly indulgent mash with pureed fatty tuna, buttery avocado and likely added mayo, so the additional 5 sauces just made it ultra rich.
  • I lost the avocado and I wish it was more of a distinct layer rather than creamed into the tuna. I could taste more tuna than avocado though.
  • The sauces really made this dish and I could taste each sauce even when eaten all at once and mixed together.
  • Each sauce had a distinct and obvious flavour.
  • It was equally sweet with mango as it was salty with teriyaki, tangy from the yuzu, spicy from the pepper sauce and a nice kick of wasabi mayo. It was incredibly well balanced.
  • The wonton chips, green onions and alfalfa spouts (not bean sprouts) didn’t do much in adding crunchy texture because everything else was just so creamy that the crunchy aspect was outweighed.
  • Since it was more of a spread, I think it should be served with lotus chips or crostini, or you can just order the Lotus Chips from their regular menu.

Salmon with 7 Friends3.5/6

  • Diced wild sockeye salmon with otokomae’s miso and garlic sauce, natto (fermented soy bean), pickled cucumber, pickled daikon, garlic chips, crispy wonton, green onions, diced cucumber, and fresh egg yolk, served with roasted seaweed. Mix together and wrap in seaweed $7.90
  • Another visually pleasing and colourful dish, but it is acquired and recommended for people who can tolerate natto.
  • The portion was quite generous, but I would want to share this with 4 people. It was interesting to try, but I didn’t really want more than 1 or 2.

  • They mix it at your table and it was served with 8 square sheets of seaweed and you ate it like a lettuce wrap.
  • Due to the natto (fermented soy bean), this is an acquired dish in terms of flavour and certainly texture.
  • Natto beans are a bit smoky and bitter and they come in a coating that is extremely slimy, stringy, sticky, slippery, and gluey, and the texture in your mouth is very similar to snot… I can’t put it in any other way. I actually don’t mind it, but it took me a few times to get used to it.
  • This was a very slimy wrap, but there was a lot of crunchy textures and pickled flavours to break up the sliminess, but it was still predominantly slimy.
  • The slime gets all over your lips and it gets sticky, but it goes away easily.
  • The sockeye salmon gets lost in the mixture which was a bit of a waste, but there was an equal portion of each component.
  • The natto was still the most dominant followed by the tangy pickled vegetables and then crispy garlic chips.
  • The egg just enhanced the sliminess and I actually could have used less natto and maybe shrimp crackers instead of seaweed.
  • The seaweed just gets slimy and soggy when it’s wet and I had enough slime already.
  • It was honest to the menu description and different to try, but it’s not something I’d order again even though I do like the ingredients.

Nikuzyaga Croquette2/6

  • Deep fried panko-breaded mashed potatoes with stewed beef, carrots, onions served with tonkatsu sauce $4
  • This was the only disappointing thing, but because they were only $4 it wasn’t heart breaking.
  • I love croquettes, but I find them such a hit and miss at Guu.
  • I expected a much creamier and fluid stuffing and more presence of stewed beef.
  • I thought it would be saucier, but there was hardly any beef or “stew” aspect at all.
  • It was mainly just roughly mashed Russet potatoes, which were a bit dry.
  • There were a few carrots, onions, celery and a couple shredded strands of beef, but it was closer to fries.
  • It was a very starchy croquette and they were nicely battered with panko and fried golden brown, but the only real flavour was from the Tonkatsu dipping sauce.
  • Tonkatsu sauce is almost like a Japanese BBQ sauce and it’s very bold, sharp and tangy with a Worcestershire like kick at the end.
  • I tried the Sato Imo (taro and potato croquettes) at Guu with Garlic and they didn’t work, but the Pumpkin Croquette and Deep Fried Japanese Sweet Potato & Cheese Croquette from Guu Aberdeen were good!

**Japanese Style Tuna Steak5/6

  • Sweetened garlic soy sauce marinated sashimi-grade ahi tuna steak topped with garlic chips and green onions. Only available medium rare. $8.50
  • This is one of the popular favourites and I love ahi tuna steaks, so I loved this.
  • It wasn’t anything I haven’t tried from other Japanese restaurants though, so it wasn’t particularly special, but still very good and reasonably priced for the portion.
  • The steak was served with a green salad, but it was more of a ‘big plate’ than a salad.

  • It was just a very well marinated ahi tuna steak that was treated with proper technique and execution.
  • The sweet and salty garlic soy sauce marinade absorbed throughout the steak and into the core so it wasn’t bright pink in colour.
  • It was perfectly seasoned, slightly smoky, in between buttery and steak like in texture due to the marinade which can “cook” the ahi tuna like ceviche.
  • It had no crust, but it was topped with plenty of nutty crispy garlic chips which is almost everyone’s favourite!
  • The flavours are familiar and typical of Japanese cuisine so it wasn’t anything new, but it was still an excellent dish.

**BBQ Kalbi5/6

  • Garlic ginger sauce marinated boneless beef short ribs and vegetable skewers $8.80
  • This is another popular favourite.
  • If you’re more of a carnivore try this, and if you prefer seafood go for the ahi tuna steak. I found them equally as good.
  • I could have used more of a Japanese twist because it was hard not to compare it to traditional Korean Kalbi short ribs, which are delicious!

  • Similar to the ahi tuna steak, this wasn’t anything new in terms of flavour if you’re familiar with Korean cuisine, or any Asian cuisine for that matter.
  • The cubes of beef seemed like steak rather than pieces of short rib.
  • They were very tender and marinated to the core, and they weren’t as saucy, glazed, sweet or oily as most Kalbi ribs can be.
  • They didn’t melt in your mouth, but it was quite juicy and definitely not chewy.
  • I wish they were more charred and smoky from the grilling process, but they almost seemed sauteed and then grilled upon order.
  • It was a garlicky, sweet and salty marinade, but not gingery and it was slightly tangy as well from perhaps some ponzu mixed in with the soy sauce.
  • It had a light seasoning of salt and freshly cracked black pepper which gave it a little heat, and overall it was simple, but well made and enjoyable.
  • There were some grilled spicy semi-cooked crunchy onions and some meaty mushrooms too.

**Hot Stone Bowl Sweets5.5/6

  • French baguette, custard sauce, coconut ice cream, in a hot stone bowl $6.50
  • This is the Gastown Guu’s signature dessert and you’d be crazy to not order it. You better order it!
  • It’s visually exciting and it reminded me of the Sizzling Brownie I had at Bombay Se or a sweet version of a Korean bibimbap!
  • Not only do I love ice cream and hot and cold desserts, but I love coconut.
  • This was a big dessert and it came with about 9 slices of baguette, so it’s quite carb heavy.
  • The only thing I didn’t like was the baguette. The pieces weren’t toasted, and they were very chewy and tough.
  • They probably didn’t want the bread to get soggy, but even after they were soaked in the melted ice cream and sizzling custard they were still tough.
  • I would have preferred big chunks of toasted soft and fluffy sweet Asian bread, brioche or even Texas style toast.
  • The coconut ice cream surprisingly didn’t melt that fast and there was shredded dried coconut throughout the ice cream so it had that slightly crunchy texture.
  • It was a bit chocolatey too from the chocolate sauce and a bit tangy from the raspberry coulis, but it wasn’t too sweet, although I’d gladly trade both for pineapples and almonds. I know it’s not even a close trade… but imagine how much better this dessert could get.
  • The custard sauce was amazing because it was made with coconut milk instead of cream! It was more aromatic, but the melted ice cream kept it thin so it never got too thick or creamy.
  • The custard would cook along the sides of the hot bowl and it turned into little bits of scrambled silky egg pudding reminiscent of creme brulee. Along with the coconut ice cream and bread it was a magnificent dessert!
  • It was almost like a French toast with ice cream… if the bread was better it would be hands down a 6/6!

Frozen Grapes – A signature Kingyo move that seems to be making its way to Guu, but I’m fine with it!

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14 Comments

  • 4SlicesofCheese says:

    Looks amazing, will have to try. But I would have to say I still prefer the atmosphere at the other Guus, minus the crowds though.
    Have you tried the new Guu on Denman yet, not sure if it is up and running but I think they had a soft opening.

    Also have you tried Taka Sushi in White Rock it is a hole in the wall and my Japanese friends say its the best sushi they have had.

  • Alison says:

    They’re actually had the frozen grapes there for a long time. This Guu is my favorite even though I haven’t been to all of the other ones. The maguro with 5 color sauce is my favorite. I always order that when I’m there, along with the deep fried brie. I’m surprised that you prefer Hapa to Guu because I’m not a big fan of Hapa’s food, not at the Robson location anyhow so the other locations might have better food.

  • Linda says:

    like Alison, out of all the Guu locations, this one has always been my favorite.. for some reason, the service and the atmosphere here is much better.. more relaxed or something? 🙂

    the spinach and sesame looks a bit scary and for someone who grew up hating black sesame paste, i think i’d pass on this appy.. the maguro and the salmon with 7 friends though, look AMAZING! i don’t expect too much from a izakaya place but wow, the presentation of those dishes are fantastic – kudos to the chef!

    i personally am not really into izakaya probably because one of my first experiences of it wasn’t great.. but with Guu, i find that the food here is quite consistent and almost always delicious 🙂

  • jer says:

    Thought I’d point out that the “Nikuzyaga Croquette” should be named “Nikujaga Croquette”. Niku meaning meaning meat and Jaga referring to potatoes.

  • Mijune says:

    @4SliceofCheese – Yes! I have a post on Taka Sushi. The spicy tuna cone was good and he’s a good sushi chef. It was good for area and the standard of downtown sushi…. but I didn’t think it was AMAZING. It’s is very good though and he’s creative. I think I need to re-try it because it’s been a while. I haven’t tried the new Guu yet, but I usually like to give it a month to settle down before I go… just b/c things can change etc. Will try soon!

    @alison – yeah I just find Hapa a bit more creative although they are pricier. Guu I find is a hit and miss, but you have to try all their locations because they really are so different…both hapa and guu… the menu and flavours cater to the crowds in that area so it’s pretty different. Give it a try and let me know 🙂

    @Linda – yes! I wrote that in my intro.. the atmosphere is meant to be “better” and same with presentation especially at this location actually lol.. .take a look at my intro.

    @jer – Thanks! Yeah Ijust copied it from their menu so ppl don’t get confused when they order. But thanks!

  • Patricia says:

    I will try Guu With Otokomae just for the BBQ Kalbi, looks really good.

  • Mijune says:

    @Patricia – yup! It was solid! I mean the flavour isn’t anything you haven’t tried before if you’ve had Japanese/Korean BBQ meat… but it’s still good!

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