Candela in Wilton Manors Mixes Mediterranean and More
Though the Vegas have attempted to change the menu, they can't remove one of his 30-plus selections for fear of angering devout patrons, like the couple who recently made a reservation for October in the middle of summer.
"That's special, that they thought that far ahead to spend an evening with me," Vega says. "That means I'm doing something right."
What makes Candela so endearing -- apart from Vega himself -- is his knowledge of the painstakingly sourced ingredients. A medium-grain rice from Murcia, Spain; Mahón, a soft cow's-milk cheese from the island of Minorca; smoky pimentón, a type of Spanish paprika; and olive oil from Jaén, a city in the south of Spain.
"Food in the Old World is about name-dropping. One place is known for its rice, another for its cheese," explains Vega, who uses a Spanish vinegar and olive oil not because they are superior to the Italian or Turkish varieties but because they are what he likes.
His patrons clearly like it too; they are willing to slap down close to $20 for his more popular plates. Candela opened nearly a decade ago, several years after Vega and his family moved stateside from Spain. Confident they could awaken the tapas lovers of South Florida with their recipes, they took over an abandoned market to open the small eatery. It began with just four tables stuffed into a tiny, 600-square-feet dining room with a counter displaying a variety of ready-made tapas.
Today, the place is barely recognizable thanks to a recent expansion that made way for additional seating and a private dining room that can seat up to 24 for formal, sit-down service. 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. If you're lucky, Vega will emerge from the kitchen to pour a complimentary glass of his favorite vino for no other reason than to see how it helps you appreciate his food.