Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Urban Eats @ Guu Sakabar, Toronto

The new Guu Sakabar in Toronto is good.  No question about it.  But is it ‘line up for three hours’ good?  Well, yes.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to.   We’ll let you in on a not-so-secret secret: if you want a table at a hot restaurant, go when no one else is going.   Any restaurant savvy hip + urban girl knows the food is just as good after 9pm, or on a Sunday, and with little or no wait.  We showed up at the Guu SakaBar in the heart of the Annex, at Bloor and Bathurst, on a Saturday night at 10pm and were ordering drinks in no time.  
So now you’re in the door, what should you expect?  If you’ve been to Toronto’s first Guu Izakaya which opened in 2009, the raucous busied atmosphere is very much the same.  And this location features a floor seating area if you’re into the full authentic Japanese experience of cross-legged dining.  We found that Guu Sakabar is one of the few ‘hot spots’ that can claim the triple threat of ambiance, quality and value.  
So if the term hasn’t yet crossed your diner’s lexicon, an Izakaya is essentially a Japanese pub; a place to shake of the suit jacket after work, knock back a few beers and not worry about being a little rowdy.  Really, the primary purpose of an izakaya is drinking; and aside from the dirt-cheap Sapporo Guu is known for, the drink menu features an expanded ‘vodka soda’ list of Japanese-inspired mixes.  One of them is the Ramune Soda, mixing vodka with Japan’s most recognized soda pop which has a flavour reminiscent of cream soda and vanilla ice cream.  It’s an added bonus to know that Guu is donating a portion of all its sales of Ramune to Japanese earthquake relief efforts.

Guu’s menu is numerous in items which are perfect for sharing, similarly to dining tapas style; and also enough variety to satisfy a range of adventurous palates.   For those of the more daring epicures, the Takowasabi ($3.50) of marinated octopus with chopped wasabi stem will be a way to start the meal with a kick to the senses.  It’s got the sharp sinus-opening shot you’d expect from wasabi without the lingering heat, making each bite after another more addictive.  It’s one of those dishes where you feel sad it’s over but glad it happened.  So if you feel the need to amuse the bouche – the Takowasabi will do it for you.
Of all the noodle-oriented dishes on the Guu Sakabar menu – simple is better.  With the many fried and mayo-laden choices on the menu, the Yaki Udon ($7.80) stands out for being uncomplicated, balanced and delightfully chewy.  Accompanied by beef, green onions and mushrooms, the Yaki Soba is up there with the best noodle dishes we’ve ever had.  
You probably think you’ve seen enough miso-marinated black cods in Toronto.  We have.  Seriously, it’s almost as if chefs in this town think nothing else can be paired with this fish.  There’s so many, they all end up a few degrees away of tasting the same.  So on our trip to Sakabar we try the Gindara, a miso-marinated black cod with yuzu miso sauce.  Guess what?  It was nothing short of awesome.  So what makes it so special?  It’s just shy of $10.  And don’t think you can’t taste value.   Perfectly cooked, simply presented and less than half of any other black cod dish in Toronto – this is a steal!

You must end your meal here with the signature dessert, what Guu claims to be the “smoothest almond tofu” ($3.50).  And whether or not you’ve had many almond tofu desserts in your life, you’re best off believing this claim is true.  The smooth texture and rich flavour makes it a fitting ending to neatly tie up a meal of varied experiences.  The almond tofu is a must try, along with Guu Sakabar as a whole experience.
Guu Sakabar is open seven days a week for dinner; we recommend avoiding the rush by going for either an early or later dinner to steer from a long wait and experience better attention from the kitchen.  But if you do want to take your chances for a table at 7pm on a Friday, it’ll be worth the wait nonetheless. --- Michelle Tham
Guu Sakabar, Toronto
559 Bloor Street West @ Bathurst
No reservations, first-come, first served.

Guu SakaBar on Urbanspoon


  1. Thanks for the reco! We ate here on Saturday night and loved it. I loved the big cheer we received when we arrived :)

  2. I am planning on going Thursday. Looking forward to it (if I can get in)!