Candela Restaurant

In South Florida, where the recent small-plate obsession has tainted our palates (and pockets) with pricey, upmarket concept foods, we have no understanding of the Spanish art of celebrating food and drink. But at Candela Restaurant in Wilton Manors, you can get an idea of what it's all about. Just one block south of Oakland Park Boulevard and over a canal that hems the northern edge of the Island City, you'll find one of the area's best-kept secrets. You may be familiar with a restaurant where the chef knows your name and delivers your dish as if you were family. This is the type of experience you'll get from chef-owner Armando Vega and his wife Yudaris, a Cuban-born couple that dishes out authentic Latin and Mediterranean cuisine. What makes Candela so endearing is Vega's knowledge of his painstakingly sourced ingredients. A medium-grain rice from Murcia, Spain; Mahon, a soft cow's-milk cheese from the island of Minorca; smoky pimenton, a type of Spanish paprika; and olive oil from Jaen, a city in the south of Spain. The rustic, red-walled hideaway is accented with handmade wooden wine racks; Vega's family china and art made with the corks of emptied wine bottles are evidence of the gastronomic merriment that's taken place over the years. Vega is most proud of his paella, prepared in the style of Valencia. The recipe calls for Spanish Calasparra rice, a pearl-shaped variety that won't stick and allows for the complete absorption of the savory calamari-, clam-, mussel-, and shrimp-based broth. The dish is served from a piping-hot paella pan, blackened rice scraped from the steel and onto your plate. Another house specialty is the fideua negra, a noodle dish with an unctuous sauce of squid ink that's filled with fat chunks of tender squid and octopus. Or try the credo asado, confit pork finished in a hot paella pan with olive oil and sofrito. The technique renders the meat into crispy fried tendrils of pulled pork that are served over a bed of rice and black beans seasoned with a pepper-based vinegar sauce Vega gets from his family in Cuba.

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