Sunday, February 03, 2013

Izakaya Dining at Guu Sakabar

Wanting something different from the standard Japanese sushi restaurants, we went to an Izakaya, an alternative Japanese dining adventure both in terms of atmosphere and menu. Dining at Guu Sakabar turned out to be not only a culinary experience but a cultural one as well.

As each new patron enters the restaurant, he is greeted by a loud chorus of hellos in boisterous Japanese by the wait staff.  There are three choices of seating.  You can sit on high stools at the bar, where you are further greeted with deep two-hands-raised-in-the-air bows of respect and welcome from the bartenders.  There are standard wood tables with backless stools that seat two or four people.  And finally there is a separate area that requires you to remove your shoes and sit on a mat at a large communal table.  Whenever an order is taken, the menu choices are shouted out loudly across the room and acknowledged by the chef.

Izakaya fare is offered in a similar fashion to tapas or dim sum, with small plates meant for sharing. The menu sections include starters, salads, cold, grilled/baked or deep fried dishes, rice hotpot and noodles with prices ranging from around $3.5 for the smaller dishes to $12 for the more substantial ones.  We started with the blanched spinach in a sesame paste, seared B.C.tuna sashimi in a ponzu sauce with fried garlic slices, baked oysters with mushroom and cheese, and green bean tempura served with a matcha (green tea flavoured) salt.  While we've had variations of the other dishes before, the spinach dish was unique and delicious.

As a second round, we ordered a few more dishes, including the intriguingly presented Kabocha Korokke which looked like a candied apple on a stick covered with pink sauce.  It was actually a hard boiled egg covered with a puree Japanese kabocha pumpkin, then breaded and deep fried like a scotch egg and covered with a sauce that might have been a mayo and ketchup mixture.  It was average in taste but awesome in appearance.  We also tried the tender and aromatic grilled pork cheeks with salt and yuzu pepper topped with white cabbage, and the grilled saba mackerel with herbs, lemon, onion and garlic on a sizzling hot plate.  This last dish had a fishy taste and little bones in it.  This is not one we would order again.

We had the only non-Asian waitress taking care of our table.  It was amusing to hear our blond server calling out our order in a stream of Japanese. We found out that she started out in an Izakaya in Vancouver and while she was not fluent, she knew enough Japanese to be able to eat well in Japan.

As we left, there was a loud chorus of "Arigato" as we were thanked for coming.  This was a really fun dining experience and the food was tasty. We would definitely return to try some of the other choices and re-order some of our favourites. 

Guu Sakabar
559 Bloor Street W

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