Guu in Aberdeen
4151 Hazelbridge Way
I’ve come out and said it before but my personal desire to explore the full realm of the Vancouver izakaya scene is not exactly the strongest. Again, its not that they are bad or a terrible bastardization of this unique genre of dining out found in Japan, but that the context is lost on me and my memories of many izakaya outings overseas has ruined me and thus nothing will ever compare. I’m sure I’d say the same for other specific segments of popular national food from around the globe if I had the similar depth and breadth of experience such as say in the diverse Liguria regional cuisine of Italy or the so called ‘rainbow cuisine’ that is reputed to be available in Southern Africa. Any transplanted replica outside of those regions would just seem, well, how can I put it… “off”?
I suppose I should relax this hesitation I feel whenever I hear the names of well known joints such as Hapa, Kingyo, and so on. Believe me I’ve tried. And a pair of visits to the Guu chain should be proof that I’m not all that stubborn in my beliefs. This particular post is about the Aberdeen location, found in that shopping mall in Richmond best known for drivers in the parking lot who feel that there is nothing wrong with holding up a long line of cars just to secure a precious parking spot near one of the mall entrances.
Staffed by an all-Japanese working crew behind the open kitchen (as was mentioned by one of the employees back there to a pair of older Japanese-speaking gentlemen sitting next to me and my drinking buddy at the counter) and a matching female Japanese staff working as waitresses, the “authenticity” level gets a bump perhaps from this touch – mainly for the fact that they can understand the “true izakaya” experience and environment that some may enjoy. For some customers this might include the rather boisterous vocal arrangement and communication that is prevalent when you are in this establishment, from the calling out of orders to the kitchen, to the notifying of when food is ready to be served and taken out to tables. On a previous visit, I could see some older non-Asian customers who didn’t expect the noise level to be as such, and the visibly perturbed expressions on their wrinkled faces said it all.
For a pair of clearly over sixty gents, the due next to us began with a bang – ordering a pitcher of draft Sapporo to get things started. Ordering food seemed to be far from their minds. Just like I like it. But sadly, having to drive, I couldn’t follow suit so just settled for a pair of cold mugs of the liquid gold. On the other side of the curved counter, were some just drinking green tea. I’ll never get over that, being in an “izakaya” and not seeing anything alcoholic passing the lips of patrons when it comes to their beverage of choice.
Labeled as duck, but more of a genetic crossbreed of domesticated and wild range ducks known as aigamo, the meat I’ve had from this bird in the past has been much darker in color than what I was served at Guu. Served chilled and in a light citrus soy dressing with assorted vegetables, the slices of breast meat had decent flavor overall, not game-y at all. As a refreshing first volley that had some substantial volume to it, this helped ease the pace of the flowing beer. If I had the chance, I would likely order this once again.
My dining partner loves anything with kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), sweet potatoes or yams. I on the other hand, am not someone who gets overly excited by this sweet flavored, stringy textured vegetable, no matter how its prepared. Encased in a deep fried panko coating, and smothered in a sweet, mayonnaise-like consistency sauce, the real surprise is what’s inside this korroke-like ball…
Sliced open, its not the most visually appealing item as it simply crumbles and the boiled egg inside collapses. Again, not really a fan of the yolk in boiled eggs, I had to pass on most of this dish. From what I sampled, it was fairly mute in flavor except for the pumpkin’s earthiness. I personally would not order this again.
In my limited number of Guu visits, this is one staple item that I don’t go without. The gyutan (beef tongue) all-stars. A trio of preparations of this animal mouth muscle is delivered on a rectangular plate. Smoked, steamed/boiled and grilled seemed to be the methods done here. The first sample, almost reminded me of chicken gizzards, was chewy but did discover a few bad end piece that was much too sinewy to chew through. They were quickly discarded.
Some tingled the taste buds that pick up the savory tones much more than others. I’d say this one pictured above was the weakest of the trifecta of beef tongue on the plate, even with the accompanying dipping sauce. Softer in texture and too thick cut for this level of tenderness in my opinion, it was lost on me and too ‘gummy”.
Almost like slices of beef brisket, complete with the musky, smoked aromas coming off of them, this preparation was perhaps the closest to how I enjoy it the most – very thin cut, on charcoal-fired grill, seasoned with salt and a squirt of fresh lemon. Only it had a touch a sweetness to it here.
One thing that surprised me the most, and in a good way, was the quality and freshness of the nigiri sushi.
The rice was also excellent and well formed, not too densely packed nor loosely disjointed. I’d like to sample more to confirm this analysis.
Finally, and perhaps the most disappointing dish we ordered was this ahi tuna steak. The dressing reminded me of the same type that came with the duck earlier in our meal. Lightly seared which was fine, but the texture and lack of firmness in the flesh is what turned me off. My guess is that the tuna used here is whatever is deemed unsuitable for use in its pure raw form for sushi.
Plenty of beer, some tasty eats to move the night along. The sounds and energy seemed somewhat familiar. But something was still missing. Guu is good, just not great.