Last night my husband and I went to Curate in Asheville, North Carolina for my birthday, and I was scheduled to meet Chef Katie Button. I always go into panic mode when meeting a new chef. Can I say their name correctly? Do I know enough about them? Last night's big hurdle was learning to pronounce Curate right before I stepped in the door. Four years of Spanish and COO-ru-tay was the best I could do, so we went with it.
Chef Katie is a rock star in my world. She was a James Beard semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2013, for goodness sakes! They don't hand those nods out to just anyone. She was in full planning mode since her and husband Felix Meana's second venture, a speakeasy of sorts they are calling The Nightbell, is slated to open in Asheville February 2. But, she did take some time to talk with me and I was so thankful!
The James Beard Awards, in case you are wondering, are like the Oscars of the food world. I'm always glued to my Twitter feed during finalist announcements and during the Awards Ceremony. I cheer our Carolina chefs and authors on like I'm there. (Strangeness confirmed.)
Six stops for info about the brilliant Chef Katie Button:
People's Best New Chef Southeast by Food and Wine
Sound Palate with Kitty Kinnin Chef Series Podcast with Katie Button (really great podcast!)
I feel like I am systematically checking off every restaurant on Biltmore Ave in Asheville. In the past two months I've hit Chestnut and Posana, too. The more I get to know the talent in Asheville, the more I am absolutely floored. Did you know Asheville made Forbes Travel Guide's Five Secret Foodie Cities list? Of course, Curate and French Broad Chocolate were mentioned in the write up.
We were ushered to two stools at the end of the bar overlooking the wide open kitchen, last night. They are totally the best seats in the house, though you can't go wrong with any seat at the marble bar. You are front and center to all the action. I counted six chefs working stations at the slowest time last night. I swear there had to have been 10 or 12 people behind the bar cooking and fixing and shaking and delivering at one point. They were butt to butt but it was pure magic.
My husband ordered the Curate Manhattan with a crazy liquid cherry in the bottom! A blog post is seriously not enough space to go into the science behind the food served here. I was so torn between the Sangria they make tableside and a simple glass of red, so I handed the decision over to our server/bartender, Jessica, and she picked out an awesome glass of red, a 2008 Beronia Reserva. I loved it so much, I had a second glass! (The whole finger pointing at the item thing was a last minute decision. I hope you find it helpful if you want to hunt down a bottle.)
I always like to see what other people are ordering before I make a decision. The thing is, everything headed off the line looked so beautiful! I couldn't choose. We left it up to the chef and our server, and they totally rocked it out.
Our first course was the brandada de bacalao, a traditional cod and potato puree served hot with crispy bread. It was an incredible savory, garlicky dish. I think I ate most of this one myself. Don't let the "tapas" description of this restaurant keep you away! The servings are not tiny and the prices are reasonable.
This colorful dish was the ensalada de invierno - a salad of belgian endive, vaideon blue cheese, candied walnuts, orange, pomegranate with walnut champagne vinaigrette. I'm not a huge salad orderer, but this was gorgeous. And the flavor mixture was perfection. I fought to get one of everything on my fork every bite.
Yes. This is octopus. Don't make that face! It was really, really good. And I even ate the pieces that resembled a sea creature like the tentacles and suction cups, which I usually pick around. According to the menu listing it is pulpo a la gallega or galician style octopus served warm with sea salt, olive oil, spanish paprika and yukon gold potato puree. They could have just said tasty sea critter...
This plate of charcuterie was really awesome. The meats were in line from your left to right: jamon serrano fermin (dry, cured spanish ham), jamon iberico fermin (cured ham from the famous black-footed iberico pigs of spain), and jamon iberico de bellota (100% pure iberico pigs, acorn fattened and free range). The first ham was a lot like a country ham. The second was not as salty and a little more fatty. The third, was sweet, fatty and amazing. Almost nutty. After we sampled them all, Jessica told us that the last two hams were basically the same meat except for the fact that the one on the far right, the iberico de bellata was free range and fed tons of acorns. A very cool experiment on how the diet of an animal changes the way the meat tastes!
The toasts to the side were topped with shaved tomato fresca with rosemary and garlic.
The special of the night was Rabo del Toro. (Sounds like a wrestler, doesn't it?) It's actually oxtail Sous-vide in a veal and red wine demi-glace for 18 hours. Sous-vide basically means it was cooked in an airtight plastic bag to hold in all the flavors and keep out all the air.
The potatoes took were rich and creamy, like no potato I'd ever eaten before. For potato espuma they put potatoes and cream in a siphon, then charge it with nitrous oxide and it comes out all whipped. Then, it's drizzled with vanilla infused olive oil. There's probable a few more steps in there, but that's the gist of it.
The Chef de Cuisine of Curate is Frank Muller. I guarantee he won't forget me. He was at the end of the line last night and delivered most of our dishes. I entertained him with my crazy questions such as, "Why do restaurants serve oxtail but not ox? You never see ox on a menu!" He was a good sport and pretty dang successfully avoided my camera.
Pimientos de piquillo con queso de cabra (piquillo peppers stuffed with spanish goat cheese). Not my favorite dish due to my indecisiveness on whether or not I like goat cheese, but a beautiful dish, none the less.
At this point, my husband announced that he was done. Terminado. Bummer. Our server said she would have definitely sent out the sauteed mushrooms next. I guess this means another trip, like way soon.
We asked for dessert to wrap things up, and man, did they end on a strong note! This amazing dish of pistachio heaven landed in front of us. Tarta de pistacho. A pistachio sponge cake, candied pistachio, pistachio praline (like pistachio butter) with lemon thyme ice cream and blackberry coulis. Wow! What flavor.
And to end our night: Curate says happy birthday (to everyone, not just me) with a giant chocolate pig ear. No, not really. (I'm laughing.) It's panuelo de chocolate, house made chocolate melted and poured on a potato starch paper, topped with hazelnuts and dried cranberries. As it cools, it is folded into the shape of a napkin, something Chef Katie learned during her time in Spain.
The night was absolutely awesome, and I totally met Chef Katie Button. Did I mention that? (Grins.) Happy birthday to me!
(*Blogger won't let me do the whole accent over letters thing. I apologize. If you have a fix, send it to me!)