Restaurant Review – Curate Tapas Bar

Shrimp and garlic appetizerOh MAN.

You know I hate writing bad restaurant reviews. I did it last week, and it made me sad on my insides where my feelings live.

So, I’m redeeming my insides by telling you about Curate.  You need to go there.  If I had to tell you right now what my favorite dining experience in the last year has been, I’d be hard pressed to pick anything other than this place.

It’s good.  REALLY good.  And cool, which is super helpful for dorky people like me who really want to feel cool.

Besides the utterly lovely food, we adore the atmosphere in this place, which is right downtown in Asheville, NC.  We’d been once before sans camera, and since that trip I’ve tried to find excuses to drive back just to eat there.  WELL, last weekend we were in Asheville doing a wedding tasting for our friends who live in LA, and we had a free night on Friday.  So, we called for a reservation.

Beer

4:15 or 10pm were our options.

Yeah – we’re not the only ones that love the place. Not deterred by the thought of eating early, we headed over at 5pm and were so glad we did.  The place was still pretty empty, and there were tons of seats at the bar, which is the best feature of Curate.  They have tables like any old boring restaurant, but behind the bar ALL the food is prepared, and it’s done so in the most beautifully organized, clean way you’ve ever seen food prepared.  We’ve talked to the servers before about how the restaurant works, and the consensus is that there is constant prep work, followed by constant clean up.

Spanish white

Well THANK YOU hard workers for doing that and letting us watch.  It’s fascinating, and I learn so much from watching the servers and cooks work together.

Curate has drinks.  They’re not overly expensive, not overly cheap.  They’re all good.  Ask your server based on what you like and they’ll offer good suggestions.  Blah blah, let’s talk about the FOOD.

Because this is a tapas restaurant, you can try tons of dishes without getting too full. They’re all reasonably priced – their current menu is here.  One of my favorite things at Curate is their pan con tomate.  Tomato bread.  Local bread, fresh tomatoes, olive oil, and sea salt.  That’s it, and somehow I’ve ordered it TWICE both times I’ve been there.  Like, two orders each time.  It’s perfect.  There’s an option to try ham or cheese on top of it, but we always order it plain, and I doubt we’ll stray from that.

Tomato bread

We also tried the warm octopus salad, being the seafood-loving folks that we are.  Warm octopus so tender it melted in your mouth, with olive oil, sea salt, and mashed potatoes on top?  Kill me now.  The potatoes were of course perfect, and we gobbled up the octopus – we could have eaten twice what they gave us!  If I had anything negative to say about that particular dish, it was that the olive oil was GOOD, and strong.  I loved it, but it overpowered the octopus just slightly.  BUT, it went really well with the dusting of smoked paprika…so it wasn’t a huge deterrent.  Just slightly oily.

Octopus salad

Also new this time was our ordering of the shrimp with sliced garlic – described on the menu as the number one appetizer in Asheville.  We didn’t get it the first time we went to Curate, and I’m so glad we did this time!  It’s GREAT.  Super tender shrimp, holy-garlicky sauce, and crusty bread for dipping.  There was a hot chili pepper alongside, which of course Jay tried to eat whole.  Men.

Shrimp and garlic appetizer

Worth a mention if you’ve already clicked on the menu:  last time we also tried the chorizo-wrapped potato chips and the cana de cabra cheese stuffed peppers.  The chips were exactly what you’d expect – spicy, meaty, and delicious.  We didn’t get them this time because they were just….chips…but they were still great.  The stuffed peppers were bland.  They were well cooked and people with sensitive palates probably love them, but we liked other items on the menu so much better.

Toast with eggplant puree

We also ordered the eggplant, pepper, and onion salad for the first time at this meal.  It was delicious!  It wasn’t so much a salad, more of an appetizer.  All of the veggies were roasted then pureed and served in sections on the plate, then topped with Spanish anchovies.  It was really great!  I tasted each of the veggies first, and they were a little bland.  BUT, when topped with a bit of the super salty anchovy on toast the balance was perfect.  Don’t be afraid of anchovies, by the way.  Just eat them in little bits and they’ll add a really nice salty, nutty flavor to whatever you eat them with.  Promise!

Onion eggplant pepper appetizer

Another favorite of ours is the wilted spinach.  Barely cooked spinach, raisins, apples, and pine nuts in a PINE NUT SAUCE.  So freakin good.  They keep it in squirt bottles behind the bar, and I’ve seriously contemplated stealing one to take in my purse.  Maybe next time I can ask for some extra like a grown up.

Wilted spinach

This time, unlike usually when we go out to eat, we ordered dessert.  Rosemary ice cream with almond sponge cake and candied orange.  YES.  Everything was perfect.  The ice cream was really different, and there were crushed almonds on the plate that gave a super nice salty bite – I’m totally into the salty/sweet combo, and this dessert was really perfect and light.

Full dessert

Also with dessert we had the Spanish vermouth, recommended to us by our server….Cliff…Clift…Clint…Flint.  He was great, and had cute glasses.  Someone please comment on this and tell me his name so I don’t look like I can’t remember someone’s name for 5 days.  ANYWAY, the vermouth was delicious.  Dark and barely sweet and YUMMY.  So yummy, in fact, that my darling fiancee drank nearly 2 full glasses of it that I had ordered for myself since he was “done drinking for the night.”  Charming.

After a nice reader (employee?) comment, I can confirm that our server’s name was Cliff.  Can someone remind me to grow the heck up and ask a server’s name BEFORE said server gives me 82 drinks?  Thank you for your help in this matter.  

spanish vermouth

It’s worth a note that we haven’t ever ordered a single meat item from the menu except the chorizo chips the last time we were at Curate.  We have our reasons for this.  Mainly – meat is more expensive and we prefer vegetarian and seafood dishes.

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of how much we love this place.  The atmosphere, staff, and all the guests we’ve met have been wonderful.  In fact, the only reason we ate there for the first time because we were on the street and a couple from California stopped us to say that we HAD to try it – they were waiting outside for lunch 15 minutes before it opened.

Menu

Thanks to the whole staff for another amazing experience.  It was well worth eating at 5pm, and we can’t wait to be back!

Try this place, people.  You’ll love it.

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