Several weeks ago, Francisco received an invitation from an acquaintance to come and dine at their recently opened restaurant in order to give his opinion. Francisco invited me as a second critical eye and palate, along with Teresa, an American working as a substitute-teacher in Granada with an interest in the culinary arts. Karen, a Dutch Erasmus student and another member of the Aula de Gastronomia, was also invited. It so happened that Teresa had guests that weekend, Megan and Matt, an American couple working and living near Madrid, who joined our party. Christina, an elementary school teacher from Motril whom Teresa met in Granada, completed our party. That is how I came to pass a pleasant and delicious December evening in the company of such an eclectic group at the restaurant Canela y Clavo (Cinnamon and Clove). We did not intend to perform a scientific critique, but rather gather our impressions to give a picture of our perceived strengths and weaknesses of the 10-day-old venue. So this is a review composed of many voices, with some experiences as distinct as the different places we come from.
Canela y Clavo is located on a small side street off Reyes Católicos, near Plaza Nueva. The location itself scored points with diners, who described it as “tranquil.” Red dominates the color scheme, and live-cut blossoms in vases along with tiny potted poinsettias on each table, “a nice touch for the holidays,” Megan noted, echo kitschy flower cutouts pasted on the walls. I particularly loved the ambience that the tabletop votive candles created, and Francisco was especially impressed that smoking is not permitted, allowing for a more agreeable dining experience. The general responses to the décor and ambience ranged from “only acceptable” to “stylish,” “attractively modern,” and “agreeable.” I was impressed that despite us being the only party on the holiday-weekend Monday night, I never heard noise from the kitchen, impressive when there isn’t the general murmur of other diners to cover any sounds.
Serlina, our informative and attentive server for the night, brought our menus along with crunchy rolls to dip into some very good-quality Córdoban olive oil so we could munch while perusing their selection. Canela y Clavo was originally intended to be a vegetarian restaurant and although concessions have been made to meat-eaters with a selection of chicken, fish, and pork dishes, the variety of vegetarian options reflects the initial design. Christina, Megan and Matt, our vegetarian diners of the group, especially appreciated the meat-free options, as they explained it can be difficult for them to find flavorful and well-prepared vegetarian food in Spain. In addition to the usual groupings of starters, entrees and sides, Canela y Clavo offers a unique “from the wok” section of stir-fried noodles or rice plates. The drinks menu received some criticism, lacking in its almost dauntingly long list, in Francisco’s opinion, products from Granada.
We selected three starters for the table, which were received with mixed pleased and disappointed responses. The two salads, Bouquet de hojas con frutos secos y salsa de mango (salad with nuts and mango dressing) and Ensalada de broccoli y zanahoria (broccoli and carrot salad) were too similar for most diners, “not anything special,” according to Karen, both being served on identical beds of arugula. However, the fresh mango dressing was a favorite of the table, sticking in everybody’s memory throughout the entire meal as one of the most flavorful items we sampled. Most enjoyed the roasted vegetables of the second salad, though would have appreciated different nuts in the first than the chopped peanuts sprinkled on top. Our third appetizer, the Empanaditas de verduras (similar to baked pot stickers) were served with two dipping sauces, a sweet and a salty, which were pleasing to the table- Matt especially enjoyed the Asian flavors and would like to see even more Asian-inspired dishes on the menu like this one.
Picking a main dish was not difficult for me since I was immediately attracted to the Pasta capelettis de calabaza y Brie con pesto (homemade pasta filled with pumpkin and Brie cheese, with either tomato and basil or pesto sauce), a luxuriously simple yet imaginative combination. I enjoyed the pasta though would have been even more pleased with a more distinct Brie flavor. Teresa, who got the same, agreed that the “nice flavors blended well.” Other standouts were Karen’s Ragut de pescado (a mixed fish stew) and Matt’s Brochetas de tofu con salsa de manzana y berenjena (tofu with a side of apple and eggplant salsa). Although for Matt the salsa and tofu were excellent on their own but not ideal combined together, this plate was my favorite for its quality execution, the tofu cooked perfectly for my taste in a soy-based sauce, and the sweet apple-eggplant salsa was so delicious and unique that I would be interested in re-creating it in my own kitchen. The three remaining plates, Francisco’s, Christina’s and Megan’s, were pasta and rice plates with vegetables from the wok section, and were all well-received- Megan “really enjoyed the leeks” and Cristina appreciated the “fresh ingredients and the very good sauce.” The use of a few quality ingredients combined in innovative ways characterized the restaurant’s selection of main courses and brought rave reviews from around the table- as Francisco concluded in his, “la comida TODA MUY MUY BUENA” (the food was all really really good!).
The dessert selection was small and citrus-themed, including a dark chocolate fondue served with mandarin segments, a crepe suzette and a “Coulant de chocolate” (in other words, miniature molten lava chocolate cake) with orange sorbet. We ordered the latter two and were delighted with the beautiful presentation and unforgettable flavors. Megan described the orange zest sauce on the delicate warm crepes as tasting like “orange-flavored maple syrup,” which led us to wonder at the absence of such a product on the market. Teresa especially enjoyed the molten chocolate cake that practically dissolved into a pool of thick hot chocolate at the touch of her spoon, ingeniously paired with the refreshingly light orange sorbet. Although we had just eaten our way through a sizable portion of the restaurant’s menu, not a bite of crepe or cake was left after we dutifully sampled every last bit in serving our very important duty as restaurant “critics.” I’m convinced a happier group of strangers-turned-friends over a meal so imaginative and tasty could not be found outside the walls of the friendly little restaurant Canela y Clavo.