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Restaurant spotlight: Meet the fellas from Canela

August 27th, 2012 Comments off

Paco Cifuentes (rear) and Matt Shuster

For over 25 years, 2272 Market Street was home to Capri, an unassuming, uninspiring red sauce Italian joint which—in its last years—offered a weeknight dinner special of green salad, pasta, and a glass of non-descript wine for 10 bucks. Like all too many Castro district eateries, it was less a dining destination than a filling station, a place to lay down a base for the evening’s alcohol intake elsewhere.

Things have changed. Radically.

A friendly communal counter for chatting over tapas

Just shy of a year ago, Madrid-born Paco Cifuentes—who works in biotech—and his partner, chef Mat Shuster dramatically transformed the space into Canela. The warm, charmingly designed dining room features comfortable, cheerfully striped banquettes, dramatic floral art, and clever bottle-bottom styled lighting fixtures. Its a setting that invites you to linger, and combined with Shuster’s lengthy menu of  Iberian-accented small plates and Cifuentes’ personally curated collection of hard-to-find Spanish wines, it makes Canela the single restaurant along the Upper Market/Castro axis of our gayborhood that merits a special trip from elsewhere in the city. Canela deserves to be known not as a “Castro restaurant” but as a “San Francisco restaurant,” happily located in the Castro.

Cifuentes and Shuster have been a couple for almost 9 years. Over that time, they’ve made many trips to Madrid to visit Cifuentes mother, who speaks no English. Shuster, as it happens, speaks no Spanish. Mother- and son-in-law bonded in the kitchen, with Shuster shadowing Madre Cifuentes as she cooked her son’s favorite dishes—always by eye, without measuring cups or spoons.

The cuisine is as vibrant and attractive as the decor

According to Cifuentes, Shuster—who has been a culinary instructor as well as a chef—is a stellar participant-observer, almost osmotically absorbing the soul of his mother’s cooking—and then successfully integrating modest twists that take advantage of local produce without compromising authentic flavors. Among the don’t-miss dishes are the seared calamari served with sautéed white beans—at once briny, and earthy with a terrific textural contrast; okra with Serrano ham, garlic, and lemon—the pencil-thin okra, cut lengthwise, is entirely slime-free and snappy; and two exemplary renditions of traditional standbys: rich ham and béchamel-filled croquettas, and a perfectly textured Spanish tortilla, the egg simply layered with potatoes and onion.

Cifuentes is a passionate oenophile, but also focused on value.  Among the wine list’s surprises are an affordable house blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot made exclusively for Canela by Joseph Gary Cellars and a showcase of choice Spanish sherries and reds—including a mouthwatering 2006 Montecastro. If you’d like a charming tutorial on Iberian vintages, be sure to ask for Cifuentes personally.

Canela was previously cited in one of our Insider Tips columns…check out author Jim Provenzano’s recommendation here.

 

Defining the F-word, with Edible Excursions culinary tours

May 29th, 2012 Comments off

“What’s a foodie really? Everyone thinks of themselves as a foodie now” says Lisa Rogovin. “Your cousin who likes to go out to dinner once a week is a foodie. So is the person who only eats organic, locally grown food every day. And so is the guy who is hot to check out every new restaurant in town.”

Rogovin, a one-time Gourmet magazine ad sales manager and storied world traveler (She’s eaten warthog, crocodile, and worms along her journeys), is the head honcho of San Francisco’s Edible Excursions, offering 2-3 hour walking tours for folks who meet her definition of the overused F-word:

“l’ve always believed that the kind of people who have a genuine interest in food have a sense of curiosity that goes beyond eating. I also think that they’re willing to take the initiative to do some research and planning on their own—whether they’re locals, or travelers. So, one of my goals is to take people places they’re not necessarily going to find in the guidebooks.”

“I often get asked if  l offer tours of Chinatown or the ltalian neighborhoods in North Beach. But that’s just too touristy. People can easily cover those places on their own.”

Lisa Rogovin, owner and chief "Epicurean Concierge" at Edible Excursions

Instead, Rogovin offers a walk focusing on the Mission District, introducing patrons to an array of local merchants and restaurateurs who personify the neighborhood’s ever-evolving ethnic mix, sharing stories of tradition and gentrification along with a bellyful of good eats (tacos, arepas, eccentric ice creams, Italian pastries, unusual sandwiches, and more). Rogovin and her well-trained guides also run tours of Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto and the Ferry Building market.

But the most exciting tour on offer is a recently introduced insider’s take on the elusive delights of Japantown, a gut busting, information packed itinerary that includes a guided stroll through the aisles of a Japanese supermarket, a visit to the oldest mochi makers in town, a slurp of handmade noodles, hot waffles in the shape of fish, and sweet potato lattes. Rogovin, aided by the local Japanese merchants’ association, has uncovered a real array of treasures here, and along with the food, she shares important stories about the tumultuous history of the Japanese in San Francisco.

Itadakimatsu!

 

Insider tips: Author Wesley Gibson

April 16th, 2012 Comments off

SF transplant Wesley Gibson (Photo: Chelsea Station Editions)

In next month’s print edition of PASSPORT (May, 2012), I’ve selected San Francisco-based author Wesley Gibson’s new novel, Personal Saviors, as our Airplane Read of the Month. The book is a heartfelt gay coming-of-age tale set in the deeply religious, profoundly racist American South of 1969. Gibson writes so convincingly from the perspective of a young Southerner that I’ll admit to being momentarily surprised when I learned, after reading the book, that he’s lived here in San Francisco for the past six years.

You may be able to take the boy out of the Southern Gothic, but you can’t take the Southern Gothic out of the boy: Gibson describes his adopted hometown as “a strange combination of loveliness and kinkiness and darkness.  It’s an adult Disneyland run by recent escapees from a mental institution, or maybe just eccentrics of all stripes from all over.” I asked him to share some of his favorite aspects of SF with Agenda readers:

What’s your favorite cultural institution to spend time at in the city?

SFMOMA, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  There’s always something interesting there.

Currently featured is an exploration of the utopian architect Buckminster Fuller, and the debut U.S. museum exhibition of eccentric contemporary Dutch graphic artist Parra.

 

Where’s your favorite view in the city?

From the Hammon Observation Tower  at the DeYoung Museum.  It’s a 360 degree view from an intimate, beautiful space.

The tower is open to the public, with no need to pay museum admission.  That said, there’s good reason to pay museum admission these days: a blockbuster John Paul Gaultier fashion retrospective runs through August 19.

See the view and learn more of Gibson’s picks after the jump

Read more…

Insider tips: Larry Smith, creator of the bestselling Six Word Memoir books

April 10th, 2012 Comments off

Larry Smith (Photo: Gilian Zoe Segal)

Larry Smith, editor of SMITH Magazine and the Six-Word Memoir project, and the just released book, THE MOMENT: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists Famous & Obscure lived in the Lower Haight for most of the nineties, where he collaborated with the then-unknown Dave Eggers on the late, lamented MIGHT magazine. Now a Brooklyn-dweller, Smith still makes it out to SF three times a year or so, usually staying with his sister in the Outer Mission, where he tries to hit Arizmendi for baked goods and Philz for coffee every morning. We hit him with our tourist tips questionnaire…

What’s your favorite cultural institution to spend time at in the city, and why?

Indoors it’s 826 Valencia, the hub of Dave Eggers’ writing center for kids—you can feel energy the moment you walk into the place. Ourdoors it’s the Japanese Tea Garden. I’m usually running around like a nut between work and play while I’m in town, and when I grab a few hours to chill at the Tea Garden it gets my head back together. I took my son there when he was about eight months old and he had a blast.

 

Where’s your favorite view in the city?

The changing panorama as I walk from Noe Valley to the Lower Haight.

 

Where’s your favorite place to shop in the city? 

It was the men’s shirt store, Kweejibo (R.I.P.), where nearly every one of my shirts that people comment on came from. Now it’s Sui Generis, a consigment store on Market on the edge of the Castro, I got a Dries van Noten there that all my guy friends in New York envy.

 Smith’s food faves after the jump Read more…

Wednesday Wine Dinners in April, at Berkeley’s glamorous Claremont

April 2nd, 2012 Comments off

Michael Silacci of Opus One appears April 11

It’s April and spring is in the air. The days are longer, the sun is warmer, and its the perfect time of year to get back into that romance-revivifying ritual, the weeknight date night. Every Wednesday evening this month, there’s a wonderful opportunity to indulge your significant other at the Berkeley Wine Festival‘s winemaker dinners in the chateau-like Claremont Hotel.

Each week, the sprawling, romantic resort will play host to a different Northern California vintner in its dramatic, high-ceilinged Meritage dining room. Chef Josh Thomsen—whose CV includes the French Laundry—specializes in wine-pairing cuisine and will craft menus to showcase the offerings of each evening’s winemaker guest.

  • Wednesday, April 4   Daniel Baron of Silver Oak Cellars will present several vintages of Alexander Valley and Napa Valley cabernets as well as  Twomey Cellars pinot noirs and merlots.
  • Wednesday, April 11  Michael Silacci of Opus One will lead diners through an array of his internationally acclaimed, wines.
  • Wednesday, April 18  Dennis Cakebread will feature Cakebread Cellars‘ Napa-grown sauvignon blanc, merlot and reserve wines. Who knew that Cakebread was a family name?!
  • Wednesday, April  Justin Baldwin comes north from Paso Robles’ Justin Vineyards  to present the Bordeaux style blends that have helped him make his mark among American oenophiles.

After a Bacchanalian mid-week feast, it will be understandable if you don’t want to drive home. So why not turn Hump Day into Hump Night, and check into one of the Claremont’s suites with your sweetie. After an morning stroll through the gardens and a detoxifying spa treatment, you’ll be ready for the one-and-a-half more grueling workdays before the weekend. Cheers!