Saturday, July 30, 2016

Gyu-Kaku: Japanese BBQ Dining

Gyu-Kaku is a chain of Japanese yakiniku (barbeque) restaurants. Since their first Japan location 20 years ago in 1996, the chain has grown to a staggering 688 locations in 11 countries. There are now over 600 restaurants in Japan, with worldwide locations in the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Taipei, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.

Gyu-Kaku's Toronto location opened last month on 81 Church Street. It took them 20 years to get here but I guess better late than never! My friend and I went on a busy Friday night, and thank goodness we made reservations because it was an hour-and-a-half wait otherwise.

A charcoal grill is installed in every table at Gyu-Kaku, and if you're worried about the smoke, don't be. The chain restaurant is known for their smokeless roaster, where with its down draft system, smoke is sucked in to the bottom of the table. The air was never smoky or stuffy when I was there.

Gyu-Kaku (Instagram: @gyukakujbbq, Facebook: Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ) offers a wide range of ready-to-grill beef, poultry, pork, seafood and vegetables. On the menu are also a ready-to-eat appetizers, salads, soups, noodles and rice dishes. 

Although this was my first visit at Gyu-Kaku in Toronto, my first Gyu-Kaku experience was six years ago in Huntington Beach, California. I even dug up the blog post for it!


Aside from a la carte, Gyu-Kaku offers a number of value course menus for groups of 2, 4, 6, up to 8 people (these menus can also accommodate for even larger groups, just ask). The restaurant is also opened for lunch on weekdays and serves a variety of set lunch menus. They also have happy hour promotions. You can take a look at all these special menus here.

Even though it is much more convenient and easy to order set menus, we decided order a la carte instead since there were some dishes in each of the set menus that we weren't that crazy about.

This takowasa didn't have as much of a wasabi punch as I would've liked. The seaweed was very crispy but a tad too thin for wrapping.

Clockwise from top left:


Photos of raw meat are not that exciting but it is what it is. Our server was very helpful in explaining approximately how long each type of meat should be on the grill for. I really liked all the meats, especially the beef tongue which was sliced super thin, and the harami miso skirt steak. The spicy pork wasn't spicy at all. The overall quality of the meats were very good and I enjoyed the marinade for each. There were also three kinds of dipping sauces to choose from at the table.

Check out those perfect grill marks on the beef tongue.


More grilling, this time with vegetables.

Literally corn with melted butter. Simple but good.

A lot of people raved about this spinach garlic (also indicated as "bestseller" on the menu) but it didn't stand out for me. It also looks really sad on the plate since it's such a small portion.

I was somewhat full by now but I didn't feel satisfied. I concluded it was the lack of carbs, so I ordered the garlic noodles and beef. I didn't order bibimbap or udon just because I can get those anywhere. I really enjoyed these very garlicky thick noodles. 


There were five desserts to choose from: taiyaki, maple syrup ice cream, s'mores, banana chocolate ice cream, and ice cream. I immediately said no to both the maple syrup ice cream (it's just plain ice cream drizzled with maple syrup and not ice cream made with maple syrup), and the banana chocolate ice cream (since it's plain ice cream drizzled in chocolate syrup served with slices of banana which you have to grill). I chose the taiyaki served with black sesame ice cream.


After grilling, the taiyaki was warm and the red bean inside was delicious. The taiykai went well with the black sesame ice cream.

I enjoyed my experience at Gyu-Kaku, but in general, I'm not a fan of having to cook my own food at a restaurant. Maybe in a group setting it'd be better because with just my friend and I, we had to do all the grilling ourselves (well mostly him haha). So the entire time at Gyu-Kaku we never felt relaxed. As in, when food was on the grill, we constantly kept an eye on it since we didn't want to eat overcooked meat, or worse, burnt meat. Likewise, we also had to make sure the thicker meats were cooked through. We even felt obligated to have something on the grill at all the times because if not, it somehow felt like we were wasting precious time, and it just felt weird seeing the grill on with no food on it. I get this same anxious feeling sometimes with hot pot too but not as bad. Maybe it's just me?

By the way, Gyu-Kaku has a mobile app which is pretty neat. You can earn points from each meal by scanning the QR code or entering the code shown on your receipt! You accumulate points to redeem free food, and you get two points for every dollar spent!

Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato