We found ourselves traveling southbound to the Tar Heel State for the 2015 Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference this past month. We were certainly guaranteed access to the best beer that North Carolina had to offer, but the best food was something we had to seek out and uncover for ourselves.
The main conference took place in the lively city of Asheville. We’ve learned through our travels that there’s no better way to experience a new place than to eat and drink like the locals do. So we focused our efforts on researching Asheville’s food scene. After an extensive search, Cúrate was at the top of our list; with rave reviews and an interesting menu that spiked our curiosity and excited our appetites.
Coincidentally, Cúrate came up in conversation while we were dining at Cure restaurant in Pittsburgh. While chit-chatting with Cure’s owner/chef, Justin Severino, about our upcoming trip to Asheville, he mentioned that Cúrate was a must-do; as long as we could book a reservation well in advance, due to its staggering popularity. His suggestion didn’t surprise us one bit, as Chef Severino won Food and Wine’s Best New Chef for the Mid-Atlantic region, Cúrate’s Executive Chef, Katie Button, was also nominated for Food and Wine’s Best New Chefs for the Southeast.
Clearly, Cúrate is the place to dine oh so fine while in Asheville. Now the question was, how the !@#$ were we going to get in on a Saturday night? We pitched a Hail Mary email to Cúrate’s general email address. We explained that we were going to be in town for just a short couple of days with one free evening to pursue outside dining interests, and we wanted to spend that one free evening at Cúrate. Then we crossed our fingers and hoped for a tiny food miracle.
Well I’ll be… we received an email back from restaurant owner, Elizabeth Button, and she told us she had a few seats open for us. YESSSSS! Miracles do exist, and they come in little windows of time that allow for glorious plates of Spanish tapas. Now, the difficult part was going to be waiting for this evening to come.
The minute we were released from the conference, Jeff (Beer Blogger/ The Biking Brewer), Tim, and I dashed out the front door to meet our Uber driver. He drove us through the energetic town of Asheville, which was bustling with artists, musicians, tourists, and locals alike filling the busy streets and sidewalks. The town was so charming and lively, I can see why Cúrate picked Asheville to call its home.
We were promptly seated at the 40-foot marble food bar, which dominates most of the restaurant’s space. Right behind this gorgeous open bar lies the kitchen, where all of the dishes are carefully crafted for everyone’s viewing pleasure. Not only were we going to be treated to a delicious meal, but we also had front row seats to a live cooking show. I was completely mesmerized by the finesse inside that kitchen. The production was nothing short of a highly-sophistracted dance; where the chefs and severs were always three steps ahead, in a constant rhythm of prepping, cooking, and cleaning.
Cúrate’s unique menu focuses on authentic tapas, or Spanish-style small-plates. Each dish captures the essence of Spain by highlighting its simple and fresh ingredients. Sharing tapas is an interactive way of dining, as it encourages conversation and engagement with those joining you at the table. Plus, it’s perfect for those commitment-phobes who find it incredibly stressful to decide on just one main dish (the struggle is very real, this I do know). If you want the meatballs, pork, octopus, and trout for dinner, then go on with your bad self. Because with tapas, you can. And these little plates are perfect for getting lost inside the beautiful world of Spanish cuisine.
Here’s a taster of what we had that night..
tabla de jamón- jamón serrano fermín (dry cured spanish ham), jamón ibérico fermín (cured ham from the famous black-footed ibérico pigs of spain), and jamón ibérico de bellota (100% pure ibérico pigs, acorn fattened and free range) Pure porky goodness.
pan con tomate- toasted bread with tomato fresco, manchego cheese, and anchovy & boquerones. I didn’t like anchovies until that fateful dish. Now I’m like, do anchovies go well with cereal? Surely they’ll go with whatever I’m eating at the moment.
esqueixada de montaña- trout served raw with tomato fresco, black olive, sweet onion, and lemon vinaigrette. Essentially, I will be down to eat anything as long as it has that tomato concoction smeared on it.
Not pictured yet equally delectable dishes were the albondigas con jamón- meatballs with cured ibérico de bellota ham in a tomato sauce. If meatballs could ever be marketed as light and airy- Cúrate’s meatballs would be the poster child for it. Mouthwateringly good.
Setas al jerez- mushrooms sautéed in olive oil with a splash of sherry. This dish was so fun guys.. (hah, I had to)
Pulpo a la gallega- Galician style octopus served warm with sea salt, olive oil, Spanish paprika, and yukon gold potato purée. I was a little bit nervous about this dish. My past experiences with octopus reminded me of something along the lines of rubbery old tires, but Curate’s octopus was nothing like I’ve ever tasted before. It was sweet, salty, and so unbelievably tender. And the mashed potatoes were utterly perfect. But what a strange combo, right? It just worked, and I definitely had a, “if this is wrong, I don’t want to ever be right” moment. It was my favorite dish of the night, bar-none.
Let’s talk dessert! I actually couldn’t wait to write about this so my mom could see that I finally had her favorite food- for DESSERT, nonetheless. She’s been trying to get me to eat this big purple squash for almost 30 years now, to no avail. However, if she would have just tried Cúrate’s method of lightly frying the eggplant, drizzling warm wild mountain honey on top of it, and garnishing it with a side of creamy rosemary ice cream; I would have been an eggplant believer a long time ago.
It was definitely one of the most unforgettable, peculiar, and downright delicious desserts that I’ve ever had.
Cúrate pushed the limits of what I thought I knew and liked. I was inspired, excited, and hopeful that some of the most exquisite dishes can come from the most honest ingredients and the humblest of preparations. I’m looking forward to the next time we can visit there again. Until then, I’m going to explore and embrace all the new foods that I fell in love with while dining at Cúrate.
A big thank you to Liz Button for accommodating our crazy conference schedule. Dining at Cúrate was definitely one of the brightest highlights of our trip to Asheville. And also, a huge thank you to our waitress Maggie; your guidance, timing, and knowledge made our dining experience truly exceptional.
Cheers N’at– Devon and Tim