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    Can You Say ‘Cinnamon’ in Spanish? SF’s Canela Restaurant Says It Well

    By David Landis–

    If you want to sample the culinary delights of Spain, but don’t want to pay the airfare and deal with jet lag, just say, “Cinnamon.” But, say it in Spanish, which would be Canela, the name of an eight-year-old Spanish mainstay in the Castro that always delights.
    One of the neighborhood’s hidden gems, Canela (on Market St. near Noe St.) provides a quiet repast for a romantic evening on the town—with some of the best food that the Castro has to offer.

    I was lucky enough to meet Chef and Owner Mat Schuster back when Whole Foods Market was a client and he headed up the culinary school at the San Mateo store. Following that, I was thrilled to hear he’d opened Canela in the Castro. I asked him recently why he opened a Spanish-style restaurant.

    Mat Schuster, chef and owner of Canela. (Photo Hardy Wilson Photography)

    Chef Mat explained, “My partner, Paco, is from Spain, and I fell in love with the food and culture from going to Spain to visit his family. His mom, who’s from Andalucia, cooked lunch and dinner every day. She invited me into her kitchen and gave me the recipes.”

    And why The Castro?

    “We live around the corner,” he said. “For us, it’s easy because we live and work here. You want to know what’s going on and who your friends and neighbors are. Being a part of the community is woven into the business. We can’t separate that, nor would we want to.”

    He continued, “Canela is in the former location of Capri restaurant, which many folks may remember—and Nick and Sophia, the previous proprietors of Capri, own the building. It’s nice to have landlords who understand what it means to run a restaurant.”

    We recently dined al fresco on the restaurant’s convivial front patio during a welcome San Francisco heat wave. (If you decide to dine inside, the warm and inviting decor by Adeeni Design Group transports you to a welcoming Andalucia, with accents of Moroccan design to boot.)

    While enjoying the restaurant’s tasty happy hour offerings (many items are $5, every day until 7 pm), it was easy to strike up a conversation with our fellow diners, who happened to be delightful gay travelers from The Netherlands. The food, the wine and the conversation made for a very memorable dining experience. Canela has some uncommon Sangrias (cherry & strawberry; and blood orange, strawberry and pineapple).

    But I couldn’t pass up the one-of-a-kind Spanish wine offerings, since Paco imports many of the wines from Spain especially for the restaurant. Our well-informed server, Paul, made us feel right at home. He knew the wine list backwards and forwards and tailored suggestions to our palate. I started with a crisp Tempranillo Blanco from Rioja and my husband had a dry Rosado from Rioja.

    To start, we munched on bacon-wrapped dates with just a touch of pepperoncini for the right amount of spice; croquetas with ham, chicken, egg and bechamel; and tasty Chicken Milanese sliders with a fruity cherry, tomato and plum chutney. From there, we couldn’t pass up the housemade gazpacho (see recipe), and for our main course, we sampled the very fresh halibut in a red sauce.

    Among Chef Mat’s favorites? Hand-carved jamon iberico is a house specialty and reminiscent of some of the best ham you’ll find in Spain. The gambas al ajillo, served with the heads on and with preserved lemon, are also a chef favorite. (Our Dutch neighbors raved about that dish). On Sundays, there’s a fun brunch. “Spaniards love eggs,” explained Chef Mat. “We take the egg dishes they would have for dinner and put them on the brunch menu.” Later on Sundays, Canela makes its own paella, a Sunday afternoon Spanish tradition. What’s rare about Canela’s menu is you can opt for a meal of tapas (small bites), order a la carte, or select the restaurant’s tasting menu for a very reasonable $69 (with wine pairings).

    What is special about owning a neighborhood restaurant? Said Chef Mat: “One of my favorite things is cooking here and then making relationships with the neighbors and the regulars. The familiarity is rewarding. The Castro is such a vibrant part of the city with a strong history. It makes us proud to be part of such an iconic neighborhood. There’s nowhere like it in the world.”

    Gazpacho

    Chef Mat’s Yellow Watermelon Gazpacho
    About 4 cups of yellow watermelon, cubed
    2 cloves garlic
    1 shallot the size of a walnut
    1 yellow bell pepper, large diced
    1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
    About 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup olive oil
    Salt to taste
    Diced watermelon, crumbled feta and crunchy croutons for garnish

    Blend in a good blender. Serve with all garnishes, chill and enjoy.

    If you want to hear more from Chef Mat, subscribe to his popular foodie podcast, “Food, Wine and the Culinary Mind,” available on iTunes. For more information about Canela or to make a reservation, visit: www.canelasf.com

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer and a PR executive. Follow him: @david_landis, email him at: david@landispr.com or visit online at: www.gaygourmetsf.com

     


    Happy 8th Anniversary, Canela!

    Time flies when you are having fun at first rate restaurants in the Castro. Many of us here at the San Francisco Bay Times remember when Canela Bistro & Wine Bar opened to great acclaim in September of 2011. It has since become a landmark dining destination in the neighborhood and is already 8 years old. Feliz cumpleaños, Canela!

    To celebrate, Chef Mat Schuster and his team at the restaurant want to say a big thank you to their family and friends. On Thursday, September 19, they are holding a special 8th Anniversary event from 6 pm to 10 pm. The evening will feature some of their favorite dishes from throughout the years.

    It will include passed tapas, a surprise performance, music for dancing, and sips all night from Canela’s beloved Whole Wine Trade and other fine wine merchants. For tickets and more information, go to: https://bit.ly/2jWcywm