I grew up in Western North Carolina. If you had told me then that there would be a world class tapas style restaurant 30 minutes from my house I would have said you were crazy and yet, Cúrate exists right in downtown Asheville.
Opened in 2011 by Executive Chef Katie Button and her husband, Félix Meana, Cúrate has been called the best Spanish restaurant in America by some. Anthony Bourdain dined at Cúrate when he was in town on his book tour and raved about it. Chef Button and Felix both worked at iconic restaurant El Bulli in Spain, and moved to Ashevile to open a restaurant. I had heard nothing but great things about Cúrate from my friends and family who had eaten there. I finally made my reservation and made plans to take my mom for dinner.
The decor of Cúrate is open and warm. The ceilings are high, the filament bulbs and earth-toned walls provide a great atmosphere. The restaurant itself is in a space that was once a bus station and is divided into two halves. The left side has the bar and the jamon station. Spanish wines and vermouth are available from kegs. They have a lovely wine list highlighting wines from throughout Spain. I had a delicious Andalucian red with dinner that was perfect with the spices and flavors of the food. The right side has the large open kitchen that runs almost the entire length of the restaurant.
The menu is designed to provide small plates for folks to share. We decide on a starter of the pan de cristal con tomate topped with manchego cheese. The bread is toasted crisp, the tomatoes are sweet -- surprising in February, but welcome. The garlic and olive oil added the perfect compliment, and the creamy, salty, manchego rounded the entire dish out. I am always so impressed with a dish of simple ingredients used well. This is a great start to the meal.
The next dish was berenjenas con miel, fried eggplant drizzled in wild mountain bees honey and garnished with rosemary. This dish blew me away. Thin slices of eggplant fried perfectly in the lightest, crispiest batter. The honey brings out the flavor of the eggplant and the batter and is a wonderful touch. I've heard from several people that they have had this dish to finish their meal and I completely get that. It could be a dessert very easily. It's delicious.
Served at the same time as the eggplant was espárragos blancos, a dish of white asparagus tossed in a lemon vinaigrette and paired with a "light as air" mayonnaise, and tarragon. I'm a sucker for white asparagus. It's a much more subtle flavor than the more popular green kind. The lemon vinaigrette was refreshing and it's flavor didn't overwhelm the asparagus. The mayonnaise was light and airy with a texture and flavor that was perfect for such a delicate dish. Heavenly.
If you're trying a Korean restaurant for the first time, you might get the classic dish of bulgogi. The thinking being that if they do that dish well, the rest of the menu is probably done just as well. Conversely, if they screw it up chances are they won't get anything else right. At any tapas restaurant patatas bravas is one of those dishes. I need to try Cúrate's version for sure.
The patatas bravas comes to the table and it looks fantastic. Perfectly fried potatoes topped with flavorful tomato and garlic sauces and sprinkled with smoked paprika. These things are seriously addictive. I'm glad mom is here to share! This is so good I know everything is going to be fine.
I had done some preliminary scouting of the menu online and there was one dish I knew I was going to have, pulpo a la gallega. Galician style octopus served warm w/sea salt, olive oil, spanish paprika, and yukon gold potato purée. I am a fan of octopus. I am going to go ahead and say this was by far the finest plate of octopus I have had anywhere. The danger with cooking and eating octopus is always worrying if it is going to remain too chewy to enjoy. This was not a problem at Cúrate. I could not believe how tender they had gotten the octopus. It was perfect. It came dressed with olive oil, salt, and paprika which was all the seasoning it needed. The potato purée was a nice compliment to the meaty octopus. This was my favorite dish of the entire meal.
The next two dishes are tapas classics. Gambas al ajillo, sauteed shrimp with sherry, garlic, and chili; and Carabinero, a huge, head-on, Mediterranean prawn cooked "a la plancha" with salt.
The gambas al ajillo was fantastic. The shrimp were perfectly cooked, and the sauce of sherry and garlic was wonderful soaked up with the crusty bread that came along with the dish. If a restaurant put this dish over pasta they'd never be able to take it off the menu.
The carabinero was a highlight. Because it wasn't cooked with any oil or spice the pure flavor of the prawn was able to really shine. Of course, being able to suck all the goodness out of the head was the best! We ordered two of these and could have happily had a dozen more.
For our final two dishes we decided on vegetables. Pimientos de piquillo rellenos, piquillo peppers stuffed with Spanish goat cheese and served with a salsa verde; and migas con verduras, fried bread crumbs with roasted brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and raisins finished with a celery root/yogurt mousse.
The peppers were delicious. The goat cheese was rich, creamy, and perfectly piquant and the salsa verde was a nice touch. This was another dish I could have ordered again.
The migas con verduras was texturally amazing. The fried bread crumbs were a crunchy counterpoint to the creamy purée. The brussels sprouts were beautifully roasted, and the cauliflower and raisins added a delightful sweet component. Getting a bite with all the elements of the dish was fabulous. The textures and flavors were completely on point.
Chef Katie and her kitchen staff have been able to recreate the Spanish tapas experience perfectly. Felix and the front of the house folks provide their guests with a first-class dining experience. Cúrate is a perfect place for two or twelve people to enjoy world-class food and a warm, homey atmosphere. My first visit to Cúrate will definitely not be my last.