If you’ve ever talked to me about Asian food, especially Japanese cuisine, I am pro Vancouver. It’s the best sushi in Canada and best anything Japanese in Canada. So when reading about Hapa Izakaya opening up in Toronto, I can say I’m pretty stoked (even if it’s another izakaya)!
On their website, the new Toronto Hapa Izakaya will be opening in Little Italy at 602 College Street in mid-August. Until then, you can follow them on twitter for updates and familiarize yourselves with the Hapa Izakaya offering!
The first time I ate at Guu was in 2009 when I visited my cousin in Vancouver. Wendy and Yvonne took me to the Richmond location since my other cousin worked in the mall. Needless to say, it was a memorable and delicious meal. So when I heard Guu was coming to Toronto I was quite excited to try it, as was the rest of Toronto. There were (and still are) long queues to get in. I think it’s safe to say that the wait is usually 1 to 2 hours. The hype was big, so I decided to try it.
Luckily for me, the first time I went to Guu Toronto I already had friends that got in and all I had to do was show up – no waiting for me! They had ordered a whole slew of random Japanese tapas along with pitchers of Sapporo – it is a izakaya after all. In short, my initial impression of Guu Toronto was pretty mediocre compared to my experience in Vancouver and because of this, although slightly snobby of me, I don’t like Guu Toronto that much. That said, their website indicates a new Toronto location opening in February – Bloor West!
When Wendy moved to Toronto from Vancouver we decided that we should do a Vancouver/Toronto comparison. As it just so happened, Wendy was going back to Vancouver for the holidays and I was heading to Hong Kong, so we decided to eat at Guu Toronto before she left and we’d meet up 2 days later in Vancouver to eat at the original Guu Vancouver location – Guu with Garlic on Robson.
Can’t conduct a reliable experiment without controls! So for both seatings we:
- Ate at the bar to ensure that all our dishes are served to us as quickly as possible (freshness)
- Eliminated service bias – the service itself wouldn’t be an issue (the chefs/cooks pass you the dish right when it’s finished – no delays)
- Ate at approximately the same time in the evening (10pm)
Like I stated earlier, my impression of Guu Toronto is not that great. The atmosphere in Toronto is very exaggerated and they act it up like it’s Broadway show. Although part of the Guu experience is centred on exclaiming arrival and departure of guests, shouting of orders and order confirmation – it just felt almost fake in Toronto. You really have to be there and live it, then go to Vancouver and live it. There’s a difference and Vancouver does it better. Guu in Toronto is on steroids and at times, a bit annoying?
I also recommend sitting at the bar rather than the table. I just felt like it was a cooler experience that way! Try it!
Dish vs. Dish
Just looking at the picture reminds me how gooey and warm the takoyaki was. Both these dishes tasted about the same – then again, it’s hard to mess up something deep fried! In terms of presentation, I think the Guu with Garlic takes it.
Again very much like the Takoyaki, both versions tasted similar. However, Guu Vancouver had more veggies and thus colour. Also, their noodles were warmer/hotter. Guu with Garlic is again superior.
There is definitely a clear winner to this dish. I love it because it has a strong almond flavour and also creamy. Guu Toronto almond tofu is both more tastey and creamy, Guu with Garlic doesn’t measure up. Guu Toronto!
Hotate-Carpaccio (Guu Toronto)
This dish was to die for! Those who have never ventured away from the regular fish, ebi, shrimp and surf clam sashimi have to try this. IMO, it’s a good baby step to getting into sashimi as well. The scallops were sweet and the dressing fresh. Wendy and I basically cleared this dish in about 30 seconds.
Hotate-butter (Guu with Garlic)
Also a great dish! The Hotate-butter, lightly grilled with seasoning was very mouth-watering! But at the same price point, both Wendy and I preferred the Hotate-Carpaccio instead. I think it was a texture thing, we both liked the freshness and sweetness of the Hotate-Carpaccio.
Octopus Sashimi (Guu Toronto)
Could you tell we were on a sashimi binge? I know many people don’t like octopus sashimi because they don’t like the texture. It’s hard to chew and slightly rubbery, but I think that’s why Wendy and I like it so much! I like the taste of the sweet ocean and this reminded me of the sweet ocean…yummm!!
Ika-Maruyaki (Guu with Garlic)
Fried calamari is probably the worst thing someone can do to a squid. I’m talking about those nasty calamari rings listed in the appetizer section of the menu at bars and restaurants. It tastes like crap. Admit it, there is nothing worse you can do to a squid than to fry it up in nasty yellow thick batter that doesn’t even adhere to the squid half the time and cover it with salt. If you’re at a more pretentious place, they might supply some nasty mayo, seasoned soy sauce or cover it with red chillies. Grilled squid with lemon. Do it if you haven’t yet, you’ll never go back…well perhaps if you come across some squid legs deep fried at a dim sum restaurant or something :P
Hands down Guu in Vancouver wins this one. Maybe because they know they started it all and like the cool kids at school, they don’t need to try to be cool, they just are. Toronto can scream and yell as much as they want, but they’ll never live up to the laid-back west-coasters.