Asheville, NC: When Eating is Your Destination

The atmosphere at Curate in Asheville

Kalber’s Rule No. 1: It’s always good to stretch your dining habits. That’s the same theory I pushed when I was a wine critic: Try new varietals and you’re bound to find something tasty.

Keeping this in mind, in 2018 I visited friends in Asheville, N.C., known as one of the top foodie spots in the country. The only problem is I can’t stop thinking about the meals I ate there.

It’s similar to Palm Beach County, in that Asheville has a wide array of excellent restaurants in a relatively small area (about 90,000 population). This year, the Chow Chow culinary festival—the first year for this iteration—runs Sept. 12-15. More info here if you’re headed that way.

We went directly from the airport to 12 Bones, a standout barbecue joint. It came to fame when President Obama visited multiple times during his term. The motto, “tender butts and sweet racks,” gives just a hint of the many delights for in-house dining or the popular takeout service. Ribs come nekkid (salt, pepper, dry rub), brown sugar, blueberry chipotle, pineapple habanero or the daily specials (our choices were Cheerwine, strawberry jalapeño and Korean BBQ). 

At the head of my to-try list was Curate, a Spanish tapas venue recently included by “Food & Wine” magazine as one of the 40 most important restaurants in the past 40 years.

After opening eight years ago, wife-and-husband owners Katie Button and Felix Meana now (with Button’s parents) own the No. 1 dining spot in the city. They also own Button & Co. Bagels, a fast-casual restaurant, which also has a faithful following. Curate was rated the No. 2 tapas place in the U.S. in 2018 (a venue in Las Vegas has the top spot), and was also rated one of the best 2018 U.S. wine restaurants by Wine Enthusiast.

At Curate, where reservations are hard to get (hint: walk in the door to reserve), there’s a young, busy but calm kitchen. The dining room is quiet enough to have a conversation, even though it’s packed nightly. The tall ceiling problem is overcome with sound baffling on the walls. Both James-Bearded-nominated Button and Meana worked at the 3-star Michelin elBulli in Spain, once awarded the title of best restaurant in the world (it closed in 2011), and their resume and talent are evident.

They have traditional Spanish dishes as well as others with an Asheville-American spin. The croquetas de pollo are creamy, melt-in-your-mouth chicken croquettes. The albondigas—meatballs with beef, pork, lamb and cured Iberico ham—showed why Travel & Leisureincluded them in a “best meatballs in America” story. Try the gambas al ajillo, sautéed shrimp with sliced garlic, sherry and a chili, or the mouthwatering pincho moruno, lamb skewers in Moorish spices with cucumber pickles. 

I didn’t want to stop ordering, but I had to stop eating.

Read part two of delicious dining in Asheville.

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