I'm here again! This time to process some visa-related issues. Nevertheless, the eating continues!
First up: Guu Izakaya - I first heard about this place from a fellow foodie friend. Rumor has it that people will wait an hour to get into here. A line?! I'm in! After some googling, it seems like this joint is a bonafide foodie destination worthy of my trekking (although to be honest, it doesn't take much worthiness for me to trek for food). It is an offshoot of a popular Vancouver chain. It is located within downtown Toronto and easily walk-able from where I'm staying this time (One King West). The reviews seem to all indicate a few things: (i) long wait (ii) delicious tori karaage (fried chicken) and (iii) very noisy.
I decided to try Guu out on a Monday evening. Since I was leaving from work, was unable to hit it at its opening (5pm) but still didn't want to truly end up with an hour-long wait alone in the cold, I decided to scrap the trekking idea and sped off on a cab instead.
I arrived at about 6.30pm. The restaurant is located in a somewhat deserted block on Church Street, amidst the university area (great idea since a lot of students would be willing customers at such a place). I lucked out and immediately got seated by the bar since I was a party of one. The restaurant is very loud indeed. The entire wait staff would bellow out in Japanese periodically, greetings, goodbyes, order pick-ups etc. It made for a very communal and festive atmosphere.
The menu is actually surprisingly simple. A few items each of oden (Japanese soup-braised foods), grilled, fried, cold and dessert dishes. There is a separate sheet of photocopied paper listing the specials of the day. I selected the kinoko cheese bibimbap, ebi mayo, tori karaage (how could I resist) and tontoro.
Kinoko Cheese Bibimbap
This is your typical stone-pot rice bowl but made with chunky pieces of button mushrooms sauteed with garlic and seasoned with a nori-flavored seasoning. The whole mixture is topped with shredded cheese and served up sizzling hot. It was really delicious!!! There was something totally addictive about the nori-flavored sauce and the combination with the meaty pieces of mushroom was such a winner. I don't know why such a simple idea hasn't been repeated at the many izakayas in NYC!?
This is deep fried battered shrimp topped with spicy mayonnaise. The shrimp was really fresh, plump and juicy. However, the batter took away from it. Overall, I wasn't too impressed with the dish, I suppose I found it rather ordinary.
This is a very typical Japanese izakaya dish of ginger/garlic-seasoned deep fried chicken chunks. And it was made really well here. Chunky pieces of dark meat chicken that has been well-marinated and fried till it's perfectly crispy outside and so juicy, tender and delicious inside. Definitely the best of the lot, second to the bibimbap.
This is grilled pork cheeks. The pork was tender, quite oily and more about the texture than anything. On its own, it wasn't particularly original but it was very interestingly matched with a smudge of grated yuzu peel and wasabi as a dipping condiment. This yuzu wasabi dip was really wonderful with the somewhat bland pork.
For dessert, the creamy almond pudding was a winner after all that rich food.
And, as a nice final touch, a little pot of frozen grapes with the check.
I had a good time here. The service was really friendly. The food was mostly interesting and well-made. Would come back again if I'm in Toronto.
398 Church Street, between McGill and Granby Streets
Second up: The Black Camel up in Rosedale. This restaurant is located in the suburban neighborhood of Rosedale. It is right off busy Yonge Street and is just at the outer rim of the main downtown area of Toronto. Walking there is possible from downtown Toronto, but may take over half an hour of brisk walking, depending where you are starting from.
The buzz about this place is its pulled pork sandwich, firstly, and its barbecued meats in general, secondly. It is a small, take-out type of an establishment. You place your order at a counter and may choose to take-away or eat-in at one of the two small tables or the more plentiful bar stools.
I went with the pulled pork sandwich and added extras - cheese, horseradish sauce and sauteed onions. My first comment is - don't bother getting the extra toppings, they don't give you much of it and you therefore barely taste them so what for. The only exception is the horseradish sauce, if you enjoy horseradish, the taste will be strong enough to come through in the sandwich, and it does go well together.
The sandwich is huge. It comes in a fresh and soft kaiser roll that is split in half. The pulled pork is piled generously into the bread. The sandwich comes wrapped in a large sheet of aluminum-lined paper, which serves as a very handy 'plate' for all the drippings that will come.
The pulled pork was very tasty. The flavor of tomatoes came through most strongly. Unfortunately, my only complaint is the texture of the pulled pork - it tasted as if it had been sitting in a warmer all day and had gotten a little stringy. I could tell that when freshly cooked, this pulled pork would've been perfectly textured. However, as I came around 7pm when closing time was 8pm, it had probably been sitting around for a long time. That was definitely a shame.
I noticed signs around the little shop that indicated menu items here (most likely including the pulled pork) sell out early oftentimes and that their twitter site would be the best place to confirm availability beforehand. I guess I was lucky to get what I got going there so late in the day. Wouldn't mind trying this place again but definitely earlier during the day.
4 Crescent Road, NE corner of Yonge Street