When Guu opened it’s first Toronto location in December 2009, people (many of whom were familiar with the original Vancouver chain) went crazy for it’s Japanese sharing plates, communal tables and exuberant service. The first time I went, I spent an hour and a half waiting outside in the snow for a table, freezing my toes off. I was an unpaid intern at the time so I had no money for dinners out, but I was lured by the incessant buzz. It didn’t disappoint. The food was salty, rich and satisfying (a perfect fit for a pint of Sapporo), and the room felt raucous and fun (especially for a city as reserved as Toronto). The second time I went, I liked it just the same (even though the wait was still close to an hour).
At first, DonDon seems to be winning on service. When you enter the dining room, as at Guu, the waiters and chefs erupt in a chorus of welcomes. Unlike at Guu, however, a hostess also beats a drum to announce every new arrival. Fancy! But as the meal goes on, DonDon loses points: the wait staff repeatedly brought us dishes we didn’t order, then seemed to ignore us when we needed the bill. Guu is more consistent.
The decor might actually be a tie. Both rooms are warm and inviting, and feature long, wooden communal tables. DonDon does have a lot of fake bamboo, though, which makes the place seem tacky.
I like Guu’s dishes better. Fried food plus a heavy hand with the mayo is always a winner to me, but there’s more to it than that. Their raw shrimps were sweet and fresh, and the ikapiri—deep-fried calamari—were like an amazing take on ketchup chips. DonDon’s food just lacked the same love: ginger-fried chicken that didn’t taste like ginger, and smoked sashimi without any smokiness.
Overall, even though DonDon is worth a visit (if not a long wait), Guu is still great.