Alex: We didn’t know we were pronouncing the name wrong until the waitress brought out menus. Despite the sign outside with specific instructions on how to say “coo – ray – tay”, we were still calling it “kyur-ate”. No matter how you vocalize it, Cúrate is a fascinating place. Established two years ago in the heart of downtown Asheville by Neuroscientist cum chef Katie Button, and her Spanish-born husband Felix Meana. Cúrate is the place to go if you are looking for amazing Spanish Tapas, and we were lucky enough to get a table between the lunch and dinner rush.
Even with the odd timing it was buzzing with activity. Art and decorations graced the walls, including scenes of Spanish festivals and a map of Spain. A massive mirror covered much of the right side, giving the relatively narrow restaurant a feeling of grand space. The entire left side is dominated by a massive open kitchen, perfect for allowing diners to marvel at the skill of the chefs preparing their dishes. We were almost tempted to push for bar seating for that very reason, but it didn’t seem quite conducive to a long, luxurious meal of tapas.
The menu itself was a bit overwhelming, packing cocktails and a dizzying variety of dishes all on one sheet of paper. There was a method to the maddness, and each dish did have a short description even if we couldn’t actually pronounce it. We had lots of advice on what to order, but it still took us plenty of time and a pencil to actually mark down which dishes we wanted to try, and to keep from ordering too many amazing things. Right after we put in our orders, we started having second thoughts simply because it had been so hard to make a choice on anything in the first place.
The first dish to arrive was then chistorra & chips jose’s way, which were spanish chorizo wrapped in potato chips. The overall experience was good, but I was a little underwhelmed because I couldn’t help but feel like I was just eating upjumped hotdogs and potato chips. Each slice of potato was wrapped around a sausage and lightly crisped, but I didn’t get any of the spicy taste I was expecting. It wasn’t a bad way to start out the meal, but it did feel like a missed opportunity.
Before we’d finished the last bite of chorizo, the next dish came flying out of the kitchen. The pulpo a la gallega is an octopus dish served galician style with a side of pureed potatos. There was a light dusting of paprika everywhere, which made the dish much more colorful and adding a bit of spice. The chunks of octopus were incredibly tender, and made up for any misgiving from the first dish. The bits of sea salt and the warm olive oil together made each bite an adventure in textures. It got even better when we dipped each bite into what remained of the potatoes, which only deepened our love for this dish.
Heather: Heaven to me would be eating this dish for every meal. The fact that I loved it is an understatement.
We were in high spirits when a roundish tortilla espanola was placed in front of us. The potato and egg omelet is a staple of Spanish Tapas. Ours came sprinkled with a bit of sea salt, but was otherwise a completely faithful traditional dish. It was so thick we were cutting cake-like slices to eat, but after a few hearty portions we were ready to move on to the next. It certainly did its job filling us up, but with so many fantastic dishes on the menu we probably would order something in the future that shows off the creative skills of Chef Button.
Fortunately, soon after the tortilla hit the table the canelones de carne soon followed, a pair of meat stuffed pasta rolls topped with plenty of bechamel sauce and manchego cheese. The pasta wrapped delicacies were a bit difficult to eat, as the beef, pork, and chicken liver mixture in the middle squeezed out with any attempt to cut it, but it was all worth it. The rich meaty savor covered in the even richer cheese and sauce provided all the richness I had been longing for. After a few bites, it was a completely unrecognizable as a pasta dish, and after a few more, it was gone.
Somehow the last dish was also the biggest and most impressive. Our waiter held a cast iron skillet filled with inky black noodles topped with allioli and bits of salsa verde and scooped out hearty helpings of the saucy mix. The rossjat negro was a very entrancing pasta dish, the combination of very thin noodles and squid in its ink was unlike anything I’d had before. The squid ink dominated the dish in a very pleasant way, a sort of salty taste that went very well with the creamy allioli. We both helped ourselves to several servings but still couldn’t manage to finish off more than half of the pot.
Heather: Between this dish and the octopus dish, our meal at Cúrate easily became one of my Top 5 favorites!
We were both stuffed full, but we couldn’t pass up the possibility of dessert. Eventually, I gave up on my love for caramel in favor of the more unique dessert. The tarta de pistacho put together a mix of different ingredients not normally seen together. The blackberry coulis and pistachio sponge cake worked well together, creating a nice and balanced taste, but that was only a third of the dish. While the spongecake and berry sauce excelled, the lemon thyme ice cream was too herb-y for me for an ice cream, the dried thyme completely overwhelmed anything else. However, once we juggled all the components together on a spoon, we found a pleasant morsel somewhere short of the gaudy sweetness in most traditional desserts.
We have never before been so sad to leave a restaurant, knowing that so many other things that looked jaw-droppingly delicious remained yet unsampled on the menu. Even at our rate of five dishes, it would take at least a half a dozen more trips to sample their prodigious menu to our satisfaction. Each dish was beautifully crafted both in taste and in appearance, and its great to see such culinary excellence thriving in Asheville.
One of our favorite magazines, The Local Palate, has a profile on Chef Button in their Dec 13/Jan 14 issue so be sure to check that out as well!
11 Biltmore Ave