838 Thurlow Street
In the past, I’ve touched on various reasons why despite the surge of popularity (which is a good thing) and the burgeoning mainstream acceptance of this concept of Japanese drinking-dining in Vancouver that I don’t regularly frequent them, in particular the better known ones that have been exposed in major media outlets. I won’t rehash them all here for the sake of brevity and for not sounding like a broken record. And let me add that it is just my personal feel and thoughts on this topic, not to say they shouldn’t be enjoyed by everyone out there and I’d ask you continue to support the businesses out there that serve this transplanted, albeit North Americanized-style of going out on the town.
So when an old friend and his colleague visiting from the east coast (Washington, DC in fact) that I hadn’t seen in over 12 years let me know he’d be making a short business trip to our fair city on the other side of the continent and would be housed up in a hotel not far from Robson Street, he asked me to give him some ideas of where to eat while in town. Better yet, he wondered if there were any Japanese places that could help us relieve our brief time together spent in Tokyo oh those many years ago. That instantly brought back some flashbacks of too many crazy nights in the local izakaya around our flat, and the mad dashes to catch the last train home when we ventured a bit further out for some binge-focused evenings of drinking and eating. Ah, to be young again.
Alas, now that we’ve somewhat matured, the idea of headfirst into the hot tub time machine of Tokyo partying seemed less rational to do. And so, I suggested, let me take you to some of the izakaya here, and let you tell me if anything seems remotely familiar. He agreed, and so on the appointed day and when he had wrapped up his meetings downtown and had stripped out of his power suit, refreshed himself and was in civilian clothing, we met in his hotel lobby and off we went. First stop, Guu. After all, this is the first place that comes to most people’s minds for a close-to-authentic-as-you-can-get-while-in-Vancouver izakaya experience. Plus, it was the nearest one down from our turn onto Robson from Burrard Street. Yes, in our older age, we get lazy.
So after getting to know his colleague who came along for the dinner – and who had no previous izakaya experiences – and a few large bottles of Asahi that were poured and share in only the way a proper Japanese salaryman would (I guess we’d seen so many back in the day), the food started arriving. I left it entirely up to the two of them and didn’t want to influence them in any way, shape or form. All I’d mentioned to this point was that Guu was perhaps the most casual of the options we could try on this walk down Robson. The rest was up to them. It was interesting to watch them sort through the menu and come up with some choices that seemingly appeased them both.
I only had a nibble or two from each plate as I nursed my cup of beer that is my new found restrained drinking self. Overall, I wasn’t impressed with the flavors of the takoyaki (too soggy for my liking as well – I prefer mine real crisp on the exterior), and the accompanying dipping sauce was odd – too liquid and where was the mayo? The gyutan (or beef tongue) was in my view had spent too long on the grill and had dried out and toughened to a point where it just didn’t seem right. The temperature of the dish had really cooled down, making it chewier than it perhaps could have been as well. The slightly seared tuna was perhaps the best of the lot that I tasted. Fresh, light and of good quality. Could have gone for another plate of this. All in all, I’d say the food of this level was below the execution one can get at say the nearby Aki.
After clearing away our dishes and downing our drinks, we then stepped out into the chilly night air to our next stop, Gyoza King.