I know that Winston-Salem is “the town” in The Man Who Ate the Town. But, every once in a while you have to step outside the box. Sometimes that’s to Greensboro or High Point. Sometimes it’s further out. This time it is Asheville, NC.
Yep, Stephanie and I went up the hill (I can’t call NC mountains “mountains” being as I’m from WV; these are hills) but we didn’t go alone. We met up with my cohorts from The Beer Dads, Jon Lowder and Paul Jones and their pilots Celeste and Susan (respectively). We were going up to celebrate Susan’s birthday month. It was a milestone one and I won’t get into which milestone that is. We set out to have a grand time with some great food, great drinks, and especially great company. We got all of that in abundance.
But, this post is about one restaurant in particular. This restaurant is called Cúrate (pronounced coo – rah – tay). Cúrate means to cure yourself in Spanish, or according to their website, to eat Spanish tapas. That’s what the restaurant specializes in, tapas. It has a reputation for being amazing and I must say, it didn’t disappoint. Paul and Susan had been there before and the restaurant had changed a bit, expanded, since then.
Our server, Michael, got drink orders from us all, which we opted for the pitcher of red sangria. The glasses were kind of small but perfect for the setting and the service. Each pitcher got us about two glasses each and there were six of us. Twelve glasses is a good amount for a pitcher. The sangria wasn’t overly boozy and it also wasn’t overly winey. The fruit didn’t take over either. To me, it was a perfect blend. It was very refreshing and light but you still felt like you were getting your drink on.
Michael then explained to us the concept of the “Spanish Experience.” That is where Michael and the chefs come up with a custom menu for the table, ensuring we all get to try each item, and they bring until we say we can’t have anymore. We decided, as a table, that this was the right course for us. Basically, he asks us questions like: are there any food allergies or is there anything you just won’t eat? The answer to both was no. I was willing to eat (around) asparagus had it come out on a plate. I don’t know how much asparagus is used in Spanish cooking. Something to research, I guess. Paul ate octopus and while it wasn’t his favorite dish, he said it wasn’t “bad.” Props for that. And, I think we were all ready to experiment and just try new stuff. That’s the point, right?
Before we got into the heart of the meal, we did order something from the “para el aperitivo” (appetizers) and “charcuteria y quesos” (charcuterie and cheeses). We had the tabla de jamónes or a selection of all four of their cured hams. Most of these were Ibérico pigs. The difference in the four was the length of aging and the cut of meat. They ranged from being cured one year up to three years. The nutty flavor of the Ibérico and the stronger flavor of the longer aged pig was magnificent. We got that at the same time we also had the pan de cristal con tomate which is toasted crispy bread with fresh tomato, garlic, and olive oil. With that, we got the manchego cheese. So, let me explain something. When you take the manchego cheese and have that with the Ibérico ham and the chase it with the tomato bread… magnífico!
Then came the fantastic Spanish Experience.
First, we had the gambas al ajillo which was sautéed shrimp with sliced garlic, sherry, and a chili. To me, the one thing that made this one of my favorite dishes of the night was that broth! The broth was spiced just right, the right consistency, garlicky, and when they bring you sliced bread, you sop that broth up – greedily. I was moaning and laughing I was so giddy and the table laughed at me for it. I deserved the laugh but it was so good. The shrimp was perfectly cooked, not overcooked and it was tender. The garlic slices were sautéeed with the shrimp in the sherry and I just shuddered writing this. This dish was so darned good.
Berenjenas con Miel
One of the surprises of the night! This was fried eggplant drizzled with wild mountain bees honey and garnished with rosemary. I’m not the biggest fan of eggplant but ¡Dios mío! this was great stuff. The eggplant, fried, wasn’t watery but it wasn’t chewy, either. It was easy to cut through with a knife but firm. The wild bees honey was so sweet but savory as well. Add the rosemary and those flavors burst in your mouth. It was one of the dishes that we all talked about the rest of the night and some of the next day. Stephanie is a huge fan of eggplant so it was definitely one of her faves.
Pulpo a la Gallega
Galician-style octopus served warm with sea salt, olive oil, Spanish paprika, and Yukon Gold potato purée. This was the oddest dish of the evening. I enjoy octopus. It’s a little chewy but usually flavorful. This was indeed that. It had a warmth from the Spanish paprika and it was prominent. That spicy was a little offset by the sea salt and olive oil. The meat itself was chewy but it wasn’t overly so. It was near-perfect consistency. The potato purée was very smooth. Almost too smooth to know it was even potatoes. Almost. They were buttery and were a nice compliment to the octopus. I believe it was the least favorite of the table. It was my least favorite but I also didn’t mind it.
Pimientos de Piquillo Rellenos
This was one of my favorite dishes, as well. Roasted piquillo peppers stuffed with Spanish goat cheese. The peppers were sweet and powerful while the goat cheese was creamy, earthy and only subtlely tart. It was a perfect marriage of those flavor profiles. I have mentioned many times about how I’m a sucker for microgreens and there were some nice earthy microgreens on this dish. I couldn’t believe the deep red color of the peppers. Their texture was fleshy as you’d want a pepper but so very tender. I can’t write enough adjectives to describe how good this was.
Moorish spice marinated lamb skewers carry a little of its marinating juices on a plate with housemade pickled cucumbers. The lamb was good bite-sized morsels that were cooked to a medium rare temperature. It was so succulent and juicy. I could taste hints of cumin, cilantro (or coriander), cinnamon, anise, and nutmeg in there among others. The meat wasn’t at all chewy. In fact, when I held it in my mouth, it melted. Of course, I sopped up some of the spice marinade, too. The pickles reminded me of Niki’s Pickles but they were made there. A briny concoction that wasn’t too sweet and wasn’t too heavy on the dill. I like pickles that are a good balance of the in-between of those profiles. There was none of this left.
Migas con Verduras
Another odd dish for me and one of my least favorites, but others around the table were oohing and aahing over it. Still, I did like what I had, I just didn’t want a lot of it. It was fried breadcrumbs with roasted brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and raisins finished with a celery root/yogurt mousse. The meal was crunchy and you didn’t taste the oil, you tasted the bread, the veggies, and the fruit. Sometimes fried things leave too much of the oily taste from its cooking. The mousse was creamy and earthy, but the lemon zest on top of it gave it a fresh and vibrant kick. Like I said it wasn’t my fave but I did think it was done well. The next three items came out about the same time.
Setas al Jerez
Sautéed mushrooms with a splash of sherry. I’m not the biggest fan of mushrooms but I have really started to get into the oyster mushrooms from our own local Gnomestead Hollow and these had both oyster mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms. There was a third variety in there and I don’t remember what that was. The sherry made a sort of umami-flavored sauce that coated the mushrooms, adding to their earthy flavor. The mushrooms were very tender and had a slight hint of saltiness.
These crispy fried potatoes were topped with a slightly spicy tomato and garlic sauce. They were a bit red and its color was beautiful. Unfortunately, my picture for these didn’t come out very well, so I left that out. The potatoes were indeed crispy but not too hard. I don’t like my potatoes nuggets of rocks, I like them to be firm on the outside and soft on the inside. These were that, just with a bit of a bite on the back end. The potatoes weren’t spicy hot but were spicy “warm.” You could still taste the potatoes through the sauce. That’s a plus.
Cerdo Ibérico a las Finas Hierbas
Another of my personal faves of the evening. Grilled Fermin pure Ibérico pork “skirt steak” with fresh rosemary and thyme. Oh. My…! This was great stuff. The pork steaks were perfectly medium/medium rare and there was this crust around the tips. Wow. The herbs were so prevalent in the flavor, too. Thin slices but, oh so juicy. I fell in love the first time I had Ibérico pork at Spring House. This made me fall in love all over again. There is nothing like Ibérico pigs from Salamanca. Now, the trick here was to have a piece of the potato, a bit of the mushroom mixture and this at the same time. Luckily, everyone was getting full and they were keeping back a bit. That left room for me (the fat guy) to have a little bit extra. Man…
Flan de Huevo
Orange-saffron egg flan with smoked caramel and sherry poached raisins. This delightful, sweet custard was warm but cool at the same time and the whipped cream made it extra fluffy. The sherry poached raisins were thick and saucy, too. Great addition.
Tarta de Manzana
Apple tart with roasted apple butter, goat milk pastry cream, hazelnut praline and crème fraîche. The glaze of the roasted apple butter was amazing. It was tart and the goat milk pastry cream, tangy. If this was had earlier in the evening, it would have been even better but we were all getting stuffed by this point.
So, our one pitcher of sangria turned into two. Susan had a couple of beers and then I had to do something silly (but fun). I tried the Spanish porrón, which is a drinking vessel that is a lot like a watering can for your indoor plants. Some call it a wine bong and that’s pretty much what it is. A filling shaft, a belly, and a pouring spout. It’s meant to be used communally so the idea is to pour it into your mouth, extend your arm, still pouring and then bring it back. Well, all that is well and good except the bringing it back. That was kind of difficult. I was really the only one to pull it away from my face. I ended up with shandy (Estrella lager mixed with lemonade) all in my beard, up my nose, in my lap and so on. The table close to us was having a ball watching me.
So, the night came to a close and we did a communal check divided three ways. We were all bracing for the worst because we didn’t hold back. It was a celebration, it was meant to be a blowout and we expected it to be really bad. Divided three ways, it came down to (pre-tip) about $118 per couple. I was expecting $120 per person with all that, but it wasn’t. The food was really reasonably priced and so very good. We were all in shock.
Michael took such good care of us, never letting our water glasses get empty, pouring the sangria when someone was low, choosing our food, expediting that food (with the help of his friends) and entertaining us. He also helped me keep track of what we were having on the giant menus I got to bring home.
I have dined in Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Bruges, London, Edinburgh, Walt Disney World, Costa Rica, Charlotte, Wilmington, and so on. I’ve been a few places. This was a Top FIVE dining experience for me. The food, the service, the ambiance, the experience. Five stars over here. I think we were all taken aback by the amazing time they provided for us.
I will say that I believe you should experience this restaurant in a larger group, say six or more people. I believe if you’re just two people your choices will be more limited because you’ll eat more at once and not spread it out. It’s a great time with your friends. It was a great time with mine! Memories we won’t soon forget. I told the assistant manager that.