Earlier this year I had the privilege of sitting with Mat Schuster and Paco Cifuentes. I had visited Canela Bistro for their second year anniversary in business. San Francisco is such a tough restaurant town–both because of the many competitors and very particular tastes and culinary interests of San Franciscans. Spanish restaurants are not as numerous as Italian or other fares in the City. But therein lies the opportunity to present the best of Spain food in San Francisco.
Mat and Paco are bookends when in comes to the dining experience. Mat is the chef and interpreter of Spanish cuisine and Paco is the wine expert. They compliment each other not just in the food and wine department but are life and business partners as well. Canela Bistro has mastered the fine art of service and superb Spanish cuisine. Elegant and graceful service is the cornerstone of any restaurant and combining both local and Spanish ingredients is evident. Paco has assembled a well-edited Spanish wine list. In northern California, Northern California wines often outpace wine lists from other regions but at Canela Spanish wines are the star. Not just wines from the usual suspects of Rioja, Rias Baixas or Priorat but Reuda, Ribera del Duero, Campo de Borja and Cariñena.
Mat is most comfortable not just directing his food but loves to be making food. While many chefs are busy in the office Mat enjoys and prefers cooking. Mat has a great link to Spanish cuisine–Paco’s mother. Paco’s mother has passed many glorious recipes to him and through experience Mat has perfected each dish. I asked about what patrons want and expect in Spanish cuisine and Mat said that Bay Area residents like heat in their cuisine and sometimes expect that in Spanish cuisine. It is hard to imagine for some that Spanish cuisine is not like Mexican food. If you look at other Latin American cuisine they are not based on a hot and spicy canon.
Mat and Paco love their neighbourhood bistro; a rare address of Market Street is easily accessed; and I love coming into this comfortable zone from a busy main street in San Francisco. Mat strives to keep on his game to present the best of Spain in San Francisco and wants the world class always to shine here. Mat often utilizes Tempranillo in many of his dishes thus reinforcing the Spanish through and through approach.
I tasted the following dishes with Paco and Mat:
- Tortilla Española
- Patatas Bravas
- Lamb Skewers
- A selection of Jamon Serrano, Chorizo and Manchego
Each dish was well executed and beautifully plated; the Gambas and Lamb skewers were superbly fresh. The portions were larger than I expected. Canela is a place to share each plate with your guests to get the full allotment of flavour discoveries.
The Spanish wines are very well selected and the servers are well educated in picking up what each patron is seeking and suggested wines to fully express and optimize with the foods selected.
A great experience and one that I will have a repeat visit.
¡Buen provecho y Salud!
James the Wine Guy
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San Francisco, CA 94114
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