The dining scene in Toronto has diversified over the past few years. Gone is the choice between snooty white linen, chain restaurants or seedy local bars. Diners are looking for more than food, they want an experience which will either complement or overshadow the food itself.
Guu Sakabar is marketed as an experience gone Gangnam style, characterized by loud music, singing cooks and a modernized version of old school Japanese dining including removing your shoes to sit at a kotatsu (low Japanese table which puts your head at eye level to your server’s knees). Some may see it as fun, hip and lively, others may see it an adult Chuck-e-Cheese or a glorified Lick’s. Most of the dishes are simply prepared and presented.
The Hokke (mackerel) was a simple grilled fish, lightly seasoned and presented bone-in. No instruction was provided on proper boning technique so it may present an annoyance for some. The fish was cooked perfectly, moist and flaky and it was a good-sized portion. The only issue was it came 10-15 minutes after everything else which made it a little less appealing to eat.
The Ebimayo (fried prawns with spicy mayo) were decent. The prawns themselves were a good size, cooked right but were too slathered in the less than impressive mayo which made them a bit soggy.
There are a number of maybes on the menu depending on one’s personal taste. The grilled beef tongue (Gyu Tongue) was a unique dish simply seasoned with salt. It had a good flavour but has challenging liver-like texture which may not appeal to the masses. The Tontoro (pork cheek), is once again simply prepared but may be a bit too fatty for some palates, especially if the fat is not rendered enough.
Regarding the experience, the environment is loud and the service is sketchy. It was very difficult to order extra food, get a drink or even the bill. I’ve already commented about the mackerel. Some may argue that the organized chaos adds to the fun but to me it’s an annoyance especially if it interferes with the flow of the meal. In addition, they have a rather ridiculous reservation policy which can be summarized as “We will only accept reservations when it’s not busy”.
A visit to Guu is like landing a gig as an extra on a bad Japanese game show or a B-rated film. The “fun” atmosphere is loud, chaotic and only adequate for conversation if you’re on a bad first date or with your mother-in-law. The set-up is not conducive to organized and efficient service. There is a wide variety of well-prepared simple and more exotic foods in reasonable portions for sharing which appeals to a spectrum of diners (including about a dozen vegetarian options if you don’t include the free smiles, passion and cheers).
In sum, it’s a good place to go if you have a small group with a variety of taste, if you don’t care about talking to them too much and if you have a lot of patience. Just keep an eye over your shoulder in case you spy Psy eating tontoro in Toronto or there is a random attack from Godzilla or Mothra.