Tag Archives: friendly

thursday travelogue: tantalizing toronto.

When visiting Toronto the hardest thing to do (other than find parking) seems to be getting the bill at the end of any escapade. It’s as if the city’s denizens don’t want you to leave.

We recently visited to catch Canadian rocker Matthew Good performing in Massey Hall, and found we could quickly fill any down time with any number of fascinating options.

Pantages Hotel: This urban chic hotel is not cheap, but in off-peak periods not particularly expensive either. Location is outstanding — across from Massey Hall, about a block from the Eaton Centre — and the service top-notch. When we visited, the elegant martini lounge had a piano-drum duo, with the pianist displaying a diverse, dazzling, almost dizzying repertoire.

Massey Hall: I can see why Matthew Good recorded a live album there. Not a bad seat in the house, and amazing acoustics. Good performed a great show here, as did opener Mother Mother, who are well worth checking out. The lineup shows Massey Hall is not just a place to catch live entertainment, but a venue musicians want to play.

The Irish Embassy: This charming pub and grill is easily in my 5 favorite bars anywhere. The food is excellent, selection of beverages pleasing and staff almost always outstanding. One server faltered toward the end of our third (yes, third) visit of the weekend, but overall good times ruled. Also interesting that on Friday we found ourselves a table away from a friendly couple also going to the Matthew Good concert.

Eggspectations: True, it’s a chain, but the Eaton Centre location is a top-shelf breakfast joint. Outstanding food (quality and quantity), attentive service and reasonable prices.

Fran’s Restaurant: We visited the site on Victoria Street, a seeming extension of the Pantages Hotel, where the eatery serves up first-class diner food. If you want to fill up for a busy day, I highly recommend the Fran’s Big Breakfast. (Now if only someone could improve its Flash-driven Web site.)

Eaton Centre: I’m not a fan of malls, but found the Eaton Centre reasonably tolerable even the weekend before Christmas. Maybe it’s because Canadians are more polite? An amazing array of shops and restaurants, although the Richtree Market was far too busy on Saturday for us to wait in the long line for dinner.

Toronto ranks among the most exciting, diverse and cosmopolitan cities in North America, and always worth a visit. Just don’t expect the locals to want you to leave too soon.

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finding great food, service and spectacle.

The place isn’t for everyone. It’s loud. It’s chaotic. It’s a bit confusing. But if you drop all pre-conceived notions of staid, orderly eateries, the Guu Japanese restaurant in Vancouver’s West End may be one of the most entertaining meals you’ll ever enjoy.

Fig. A: A traveler enjoys his meal and the never-ending show.

Fig. A: A traveler enjoys his meal and the never-ending show.

The moment you enter, the hostess shouts hello, which is repeated by the uber-busy chefs in the very visible kitchen and the busy-as-bees wait staff. Every order and course delivery is shouted from one worker to another to another with the repetition taking on a comical rhythm. Side dishes of witty banter — albeit hard to understand unless you speak Japanese — break out among co-workers in the course of their job, and it’s very apparent they’re having fun.

Get beyond the seeming disorder and you’ll see the frenetic movements of the staff are more like a well-choreographed ballet. Three chefs work the long narrow kitchen dashing back and forth but with little wasted motion as the delicious dishes come together. The servers dart in, around and under people quickly delivering the various courses of meals. Service proves quick and exceedingly friendly. Visiting on a rainy Wednesday night, Guu projects a buzz of energetic activity where no table is open for more than a minute.

And practical business lessons are apparent if you pay attention. It’s a user-driven experience where you can order whatever you want whenever you want, with the attentive wait staff allowing (encouraging) you to re-order, add to an order or share plates all the time. The food is creative, delicious and well-priced. Staff members clearly have defined duties, but hustle to help in any area whenever needed. Whoever developed Guu’s restaurants — four dot the Greater Vancouver area — understood what Tom Peters calls spectacle: businesses with a performance component providing great customer service. Beyond the enthusiastic greeting, the staff always smiles and provides an infectious exuberance. It’s hard to imagine the atmosphere not putting you in a good mood.

Chances are you’ll leave a Guu restaurant energized, full and talking about it. Moreover, you’ll want to return … and wouldn’t you like that to be true of any place you go?

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