Cúrate say KOO-rah-tay means cure yourself in Spanish. And its not a lolling infinitive, a you-might-want-to-think-eventually-about-curing-yourself idea. No, its imperative: KOO-rah-tay! Do it!
And so you should: Drive to Asheville and pull up to a tapas menu thats simple, straightforward and sublime with a remarkable back story.
Chef/co-owner Katie Button, born in Conway, S.C., won a bit of fame with a 2012 James Beard nomination for new-chef excellence. The place has been open about 16 months, and she has been cooking professionally for all of five years or so. But thats not what will wow cuisine junkies.
With a chemical engineering degree from Cornell and a masters in biomedical engineering from an impressive French school, Button was about to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience at the National Institutes of Health and a school in Stockholm when she had a career change of heart. But thats not the wow either.
Its that in her few years, she has cooked in the restaurants of Jose Andres (internationally heralded chef of Minibar in DC and more, and one of Times 100 Most Influential People in the World this year), Jean-Georges Vongerichten (of Jean Georges in New York and more), Ferran Adria (chef of the legendary, now closed El Bulli in Spain) and Rene Redzepi (chef of Noma in Copenhagen, the Best Restaurant in the World for the past three years, according to Restaurant magazine).
Button is 29.
Her mother had a catering business, which meant Buttons been cooking my whole life. But before Cúrate, shed never been even a sous chef, much less executive. Her family husband Felix Meana and parents Elizabeth and Ted all moved to Asheville in 2010 to open a place together. (Meana does service and beverage, Elizabeth the general managing, Ted the finances.) By the time it opened, she figured, she could model everything after my time at El Bulli: the organization, the structure, my standards. While I havent had years of experience, the short time I had taught me the key things. To wit:
• Know product quality and when to say no. (Even at El Bulli, mistakes happened, but a mistake never made it out to the guest.)
• Cleanliness is critical. It instills in the staff a sense of pride in what theyre doing.
• Make lists for everything, from products to prep.
• Most of all, standardize recipes. All our recipes are weighed out by the gram (So) its always the same, every time. Consistency is one of the most important things.
Oh, and hire people with an amazing work ethic, who are quick learners. Our servers seemed to fit that bill, knowing each dish detail and offering attentive, enthusiastic and speedy drink service.
Do not miss: delicately fried eggplant rounds sparked by honey and rosemary; skewered lamb with Moorish spices (think lushness on a stick); sliced Iberico pork skirt steak, impeccably cooked and ridiculously juicy; and a dessert of crumbled almond cake with rosemary ice cream, crunchy almonds and a rich nut puree, all studded with bits of candied orange.
Sadly, I missed what Button calls her Noma-inspired sweet: apricot sorbet and sweet yogurt mousse with candied pinenuts and oil made from pine needles. Foraging is quintessentially Noma-esque; she worked whats called a stage there, essentially an internship, early this year, and aims to do such a thing every year. I have so much to learn.
Dishes tend to employ five ingredients or fewer, with provenance noted frequently, from local breads and produce to imported charcuterie. Serrano ham, Iberico ham from acorn-fattened pigs, Spanish cheeses and pan con tamate (tomato-topped bread) lead off the lineup, followed by the fried (croquettes to Jerusalem artichoke chips), the cool (gazpacho to white asparagus salad), bocadillos (baguette sandwiches) and saute and grill fare, such as shrimp with sliced garlic, spinach with pinenuts, rossejat (thin noodles prepared like paella) and pork sausage with white beans.
Dish descriptions tell which things are (or can be ordered) vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free and nut-free.
Fare arrives on wooden flats, slate rectangles, occasionally even a plate, presented plainly with minimal garnish. The place itself is equally clean-lined: Mediterranean colors, wooden cross-back chairs and tables and hardwood floors, organic-shaped art and wall-mounted candles, an enormous vase of enormous sunflowers.
Fresh and clean. And curative.