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Mar 13, 2011 07:46 AM

Curate - Asheville

We went Friday night - glad I made a reservation through Open Table (via the Curate website) because the place was packed. Our table was ready when we arrived. We were seated in the back, which was fine, although next time I'd love to be in the "main" dining area which faces the bar/open kitchen. The restaurant is basically one long hall-like space with a single line of tables and then there's an area in the back that seats a few to make sort of the top of the T-shape of the restaurant. The tables are very close together and the space is pretty loud. There was a lot of energy, which I liked.

Our services was good, although the waitress did one thing that kind of bothered me. We had just sat down, not even had a chance to browse the menu yet, and she offered us our choice of waters, a drink off the wine list and then before she left she said "and can I offer you some fried almonds or olives?" From the way she phrased it, both my husband and I assumed they would be complimentary, like an amuse bouche or something. We said that the olives sounded great, then when I looked down at the menu I saw this was one of the tapas choices for $4. We probably wouldn't have ordered these otherwise, so it was just kind of annoying. Anyway...on to the meal.

The food is excellent. Everything we sampled was a hit. It is pricey though, and the portions are small - smaller than most of the tapas at Zambra and definitely smaller than the small plates at The Admiral. The entire menu looked appealing and we had a really hard time deciding what to try. We ended up going with the "accidental" olives, a charcuterie place ($11 - three large portions of different cured meats - this was the most generous serving), Spanish bread ($6 - rubbed with tomato and topped with manchego cheese - very necessary for sopping up all of the sauces from the other dishes!), shrimp with roasted garlic ($9 - six large, very tender, flavorful shrimp...this one was really amazing!), piquillo peppers stuffed with cheese ($9 - two roasted red peppers stuffed with a white cheese - very skimpy for nine bucks, but also very good), chorizo with potato puree and olive oil (I think this one was $9 too, although it may have been more - 5 small sausages (think cocktail wiener) with a delicious potato puree, also excellent but definitely overpriced) and a cheese plate in lieu of dessert ($11). In retrospect we should have passed on the cheese plate and gone with one of their less expensive sweet desserts, and we definitely should have opted for a bottle of wine - we had 3 different glasses each (all were amazing) and it would have been far more cost-efficient going with a bottle.

Total came to $130 with tip (yikes!) but we did have a great meal, great wine, and a nice evening. I wish the tapas were a little less expensive, though. Or at least up the portions - there's no way you could share most of what we had with more than two or maybe three people. Most are in the $9-$12 range, and they suggest three per person, so that plus alcohol really adds up. The only other thing that I wish they would change (and this may be nitpicking) was that it was really bright in there. I think they could create a better ambiance by turning down the lights a bit. It would warm up the space and make it a little more cozy. At one point half of the overhead lights accidentally went off for a minute or two and it was so much nicer in there than when they came back on. Anyway, I wish them all the best. The food really was excellent.

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  1. Thanks so much for the detailed review and helpful suggestions, Miss Piggy. We have reservations for Saturday night (also via Open Table--highly recommended), and I'll post post-thoughts here. Sounds like a place for an annual (or semi-annual) splurge...Good thing it also happens to be our anniversary!

    1. The original comment has been removed
      1. Glad you enjoyed the food and service! There are a couple of pricing inaccuracies in your review: most of our tapas are $8 and under - not $9-12. The chistorra with puree is also $8, not $9.

        Best regards,
        Team Cúrate

        13 Replies
        1. re: ebutton

          Not true--- Most items are as Miss Piggy described

          Anyway the portions are miniscule and overpriced
          You should be ashamed of yourself in light of the economy in western NC
          I will not pay those prices again- even though the food was better than average

          1. re: mustardgirl

            The price range is from $4-$15 and I agree that a great deal of the the food is $8 and under. Mustardgirl you must not understand the cost of opening a restaurant and the small profit margin that they survive on. The owners of Curate have nothing to be ashamed of. The quality of the food is excellent and I am excited that they are bringing authentic tapas to Asheville.

              1. re: BetsyinKY

                Thanks Betsy ! Nothing like having a visual.

                Being both an accountant AND a food-obsessive, i can't tell you how much I enjoyed doing a fantasy order just now. I think I would get the bread w/ manchego, iberico, green salad and pimentos. The husband would get the scallops (litmus test for a restaurant in both our opinions) and two other things. I figure we're at around 65 in food, add a glass of wine, a coke and 1 dessert and we're around $80 + tax and tip. Not cheap, not keeping me away if it's good.

                mark, i remember the first time we went to Zambra, we over-ordered like crazy and the bill was a small fortune even being light drinkers. But we learned to moderate that over time. I do find this menu less adventuresome than Zambra, but perhaps more of what one considers tradional spanish tapas.

                But I'm "lucky" 'cause the restaurant scene is so bad in G'ville, i rarely eat out, so I can afford to splurge when we drive up the mountain. Does that make me tourist or gentry? ;-)

                1. re: danna

                  little bit o' both, maybe? or maybe the exception to the rule. :)

                  in response to the whole thread: it's funny the strife/angst it creates when we acknowledge that there are socio-economic divisions in our society, and that some establishments are geared to appeal to the "haves". of course, for some, exclusivity is a factor in the calculation of value.

                  personally, i'd like all restaurants to be good, a good value (that doesn't mean they have to be cheap), and to succeed. obviously, few hit upon the formula that leads to happy longevity. i think there is a market in asheville for tapas done right; appropriate pricing for what amounts to snacks and appetizers will be part of that equation. it remains to be seen if x=curate.

                  1. re: mark

                    Folks, we've removed a number of comments from this thread about the state of the economy and access to nutrition in Asheville. While we recognize that those are important issues, they're not really on topic here. People are here to discuss restaurants, and while in the grand scheme of things, there are bigger, more important problems they could be solving, they shouldn't be made to feel bad for discussing restaurants.

          2. re: ebutton

            this place is a total non-starter for me. some quick mental math on the menu linked below gives me an average price of just under $10 per plate. one could spend less, but i would expect to lay out some serious change for little food to really "enjoy" the place (ala zambras - average price $120 to go home hungry!). drink prices are ridiculous (although unfortunately in keeping with many other downtown venues); c'mon, $11 for a rum & coke? good or no, those of us who live here and earn asheville wages just need to accept this place is for the tourist/gentry set and spend our $s at those places that want our business. hope curate has thought this through; tourist-free winters are tough (ask '806/scratch/nova et al).

            1. re: mark

              Wow...such hostility. And I may be wrong about this, but much of it appears to be from people who haven't actually visited the restaurant.

              Anyway, in fairness to all, I'm going to reserve judgement until I've given Curate at least one chance.

              1. re: Jeff C.

                no hostility, just pointing out that they're targeting a certain clientele, and that's not your average local chowhound, which hasn't proved to be a winning formula in this town. part of a restaurant's appeal (or lack thereof) are the prices on the menu. if those prices (coupled with the type of establishment i know it to be - ie the upscale version of the humble tapas) automatically make me not want to go due to a perceived lack of value, then that is a valid point to make, and possibly for the owners to take into consideration.

                1. re: mark

                  Mark, I agree, mostly. But if it's really good, maybe (maybe) they can buck the trend, break the curse, etc. We'll see...

                  1. re: Jeff C.

                    We've kinda beaten this to death, but I had to comment. We're beginning to sound PC here--no high-end restaurants, targeting a "certain clientele" wanted in Asheville. Let's not judge until we've tried the place--value is after all in the eye of the beholder. Anyone willing to go outside the box deserves a chance--in any event, ultimately the market speaks.

                    1. re: Zeisel

                      I haven't been there as of yet however, a restaurant will ultimately get MUCH more of my $$ in the long run if it's a value and not somewhere I go 'once in a while' if ever. I may eat there once if it's too $$ or every week if I think it's a fair deal.

                      1. re: chezdy

                        The wife and I had a reservation for 6:30 last night. We were greeted promptly and warmly and seated immediately. The place was already filling up and was packed an hour later, so reservations (which can be booked via Open Table) are recommended to all but the earliest of birds. The space is deep and narrow and can get loud, so if that bothers you, I suggest requesting seating in the back. Clean, spare earthtones and a really lovely but elbow-room-only European-style snack bar form the heart of the space. Our very cordial waiter came immediately and helped orient us to the menu. We ordered the cava sangria, which is prepared table-side. It's pricey at $28, as are most of the drink prices. However, it provides enough for 5-6 goblet-sized glasses, depending on how many of the perfectly square ice cubes you use. Refreshing, not too sweet, more than enough alcoholic fun for two. Based on recommendations from Miss Piggy's review and obervations of tapas other tables had ordered, here's what ended up with: Spanish bread with savory manchego, silky smooth imported dry-cured spanish ham (served with more tomato-rubbed bread), an awesome spinach sauteed in garlic and lemon with diced apples, raisins, and toasted pine nuts, a stellar fried eggplant dish drizzled with local honey and spiked with rosemary, and an equally worthy sauteed shrimp with roasted garlic in red pepper olive oil. For dessert, we ordered "tarte de santiago," an almond cake with a brandied apricot-cherry compote, which was a tad small for $6 but delicious nonetheless. Also, because I had mentioned on the reservation that it was our anniversary, our waiter said that Chef Katy (Button) was "whipping up something she does for special occasions." Sure enough, ten mins. later Chef Katy herself presented a complimentary molecular gastronomy creation she called a "chocolate napkin," which was a sort of paper-thin chocolate brittle studded with freeze-dried raspberries. Needless to say, we were delighted. So the bottom line: All of the above came to $74.38, pre-tip. With the deliberate pacing and presentation of the dishes and the quality of the ingredients and purity of the flavors, we feel we got our money's worth. While I would stll give The Admiral a slight edge when it comes to innovation and unique flavor combinations, Curate is a worthy and world-class addition to Asheville's dining scene.

          3. We gave it another visit
            I have to say my opinion has not changed . Very small portions for the very high prices
            So many better choices in Asheville and beyond.

            1. Having lived in Barcelona for almost a year, sampling the tapas at Curate brought back so many special memories. I found the service at Curate from start to finish to be outstanding, the integrity of their ingredients impeccable and the dishes delicious. I think much of the discourse here is missing the point that tapas are small plates. If you were actually in Barcelona you would be standing at the bar, drinking your cava or wine and ordering a couple of these plates as a pre-dinner snack that would be nibbled on with friends as you talked over plans for your evening. Like any new restaurant, I suspect that Curate is a work in progress. The personable owners have already become well known & liked in the local Asheville community for their commitment to using local foods. Curate's menu (and prices) are not "set in stone" they are printed on paper. I highly recommend this restaurant.

              6 Replies
              1. re: leahinsc

                I can't wait to try this restaurant based on the food reviews, which is why I read chowhound. Please leave the political commentary to anywhere other than a friendly food review chatroom. Let's just stick to wheather its tasty or not. Sounds like a lovely addition to town, that many working locals can enjoy.

                1. re: newtonorthavl

                  pricing & value are valid points to make when discussing a restaurant (chowhound's not just about food; take a look at the home page for proof, there are several pointedly non-food boards). are you so wealthy that you can wander into a per se or french laundry and order without looking at the prices? mightn't you be a bit shocked, despite how awesome it was, by the $1000 price tag that could result in? also, value affects taste for most of us. at $1 a candy bar can be tasty. at $20 the same candy bar is crap. curate and its ilk are deceptively easy places to really rack up a big bill. it's entirely appropriate to point out that customers should expect a rather substantial bill for what they get (or that what they get may be insubstantial for the price); whether that be a few snacks and drinks that could easily cost triple or more than a full dinner elsewhere, or a full-on meal that could easily top three figures. keep in mind that chowhound's not exclusively for the "haves" (although most of us who play here skew in that direction). oddly, people who don't have lots of discretionary income to throw around like to eat, and even eat out, too. they should know what they're in for.

                2. re: leahinsc

                  OK, so here's my review.

                  In a nutshell, I agree w/ Leah. Curate is a great place for a fun drink and some tasty, casual snacks with friends. A big-meal, serious food, sit down and spend the evening place - it is not.

                  We started with the pan con tomate and manchego. What's not to like? Also had the fried marcona almonds, a serious guilty pleasure. I had a glass of so-so Monestrell, the huband had a Pisgah brewing co draught that was very nice (Pisgah never disappoints) He also had a Fevertree bitter lemon.

                  We had the green salad, w/ super fresh lettuce and a dressing that appeared to be very good quality olive oil and citrus. Piquillo peppers stuff w/ goat cheese, clams in a broth that I didn't love (for what reason I can't discern) and tasty garlic shrimp. The bill was $63 ...for 2 alcohol drinks, 1 non, and 5 items, two w/ seafood, I think that's about what I would have expected. I can't understand why this restaurant has stirred up the conversation about high prices in restaurants. It seems about in line to me.

                  Bottom line, I'd go back. We watched them make a pitcher of sangria that looked great, and some cool cocktails, and I'd like to go back w/ some friends. I do think it would be great if the place opened earlier in the day. It would be fun to laze around the afternoon there. The food is solidly good, professionally produced w/ good quality ingredients, but I didn't discern any magic. And that's OK, mad geniuses are often spotty w/ the quality.

                  BTW, we went down to Sazerac for a cocktail, and the husband, concerned about the lack of complex carbs available at Curate, ordered the quinoa salad. It was pretty good. My drink was nice as well (vodka,grapefruit, campari), and they were friendly about creating a non-alchy drink for my husband w/ lemon and bitters and sparking something.

                  1. re: danna

                    Thanks for the review, Danna. I always look forward to hearing your thoughts. BTW, I seem to recall the chef posting here (before it was removed) that they do plan on opening earlier after they get their proverbial sea legs. (Who knows, maybe some price tweaking will occur as well.)

                    1. re: danna

                      thanks Danna - a voice of reason...having been on Chowhound for several years it is interesting to see many more posts about price than ever before. Like many, hubs and I have curtailed our dining out and look for deals/coupons etc, especially when trying new places. I was in Ireland recently and MANY restaurants were offering special prixe fixe menus for early/late meals that were more affordable than a la carte dining. I wish more US restaurants would offer this.

                    2. re: leahinsc

                      Agreed. I'm a Tampa "hound", but had the extreme pleasure of dining at Curate when I visited Asheville last week. The prices of the tapas were in line with what I'm accustomed to paying at comparable venues here in Florida. Food quality and presentation, service, and a restaurant's ambiance are all important to me and I don't mind paying a little more for them. I fell in love with tapas when I spent a week in Barcelona a few years back and thought the ones at Curate were pretty authentic (bonus points). Especially loved the Berenjenas la Taberna and the Tortilla Española.