My Spectacular Spanish Feast: Tapas at Curate

Sometimes you have such an out of this world meal, you gotta write about it. My lunch at Curate Tapas Bar was that kind of experience.


I travelled to the mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina to spend the weekend in a stunning cabin for my sister’s bachelorette party.  I’ll spare you the details of that portion of the festivities.  Let’s talk about the food in this tourist town!  The bride has been trying to dine at the popular Spanish tapas restaurant, Curate Tapas Bar every time she visits this charming city.   

Finally upon her third or fourth attempt, we scored seats at the bar where I got to watch our tapas being crafted right in front of us.  My favorite part played out before we even swallowed a bite.  Stunning Jamon Iberico shaved right in front of me. It instantly took me back to my time as a study abroad student in Pamplona, Spain.


We dove right in to the extensive and authentic menu… and admittedly over ordered out of pure enthusiasm and deep hunger.  I crave the kind of freshly cured olives that you get at a classic tapas bar. So I was very pleased when they tasted just as I hoped, beautifully marinated in lemon, rosemary and thyme.


Round one also included an ensalada verano with sheep cheese and pressed watermelon, and a Russian potato salad (another item I remember seeing on nearly every tapas menu in Spain) 

Next came the melt in your mouth Jamon Serrano Fermin.  Sliced thin, the salty, smokey goodness took me away to the land of bull fights and flamenco. Such a nostalgic treat for a me!  The bars in the neighborhood where I lived in the Navarre region had legs of this stuff hanging from the ceiling by the dozens.


Since it was a warm summer afternoon, we couldn’t resist ordering a bowl of refreshing, creamy gazpacho.  I was pleasantly surprised at how delicate the garlic flavor was in this cold tomato and cucumber based soup. Oftentimes restaurants make the garlic element of this iconic dish far too overpowering for my taste. Not Curate. For me, they nailed it.

  
Two other dishes we sampled were new to me and worth trying! The lamb skewers were cooked to tender perfection and accompanied by cunchy pickled cucumbers. And the grilled red peppers stuffed with goat cheese and drizzled with parsley purée were decadent. I’m sure these are more modern liberties the chef was taking with tapas, but I didn’t mind.

It wouldn’t be a Spanish feast without croquetas either. These creamy fritters were filled with shredded chicken and cheese. Just rich and crispy enough.


We finished the meal with their most popular menu item, sautéed shrimp with sliced garlic in a sherry broth. And with what can only be described as the classic Spanish tapa, the tortilla espanola.  The egg, potato and onion dish is something I like to recreate on occasion. It didn’t disappoint!

When it comes to authentic Spanish cuisine and a tapas bar atmosphere, I have pretty high standards given my history.  Curate sets the (tapas) bar!

Mangia Mojo Shrimp Skewers

Shrimp cocktail is a real treat…one you shouldn’t waste when there’s excess. (I’m still unsure why there ever is!) But it has a short shelf life.  So when there was a bowl full of shrimp leftover from my birthday dinner (Thanks, Mom) I moved quickly to execute some Cheftovers magic. 

shrimp cocktail

I recently connected with the fine folks and fellow foodies at Mangia Dry Rub(http://www.mangia.tv/) They invited me to try a couple of their products and incorporate them into some of my Cheftovers concoctions.  Since one of them was labeled “Shrimp Mojo Dry Rub,” I took this as a sign!  It’s packed with Cajun flavors (Ingredients: onion powder, garlic powder, salt, sugar, spices: paprika, celery, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper and turmeric)

mangia dry rub

I followed the instructions on the package, and mixed two parts spice mix with one part oil (I used canola) then added that to a Ziploc bag full of the  cocktail shrimp for a kind of “reverse marinade” since the shrimp was already cooked.  I stuck that in the fridge for about an hour until I was ready to grill ’em up.

marinating shrimp

When it was time to fire them, I found some wooden skewers and a long grill pan.  I threaded six or seven shrimp on each skewer, and was pleased with how well the Mangia Mojo rub stuck to the shrimp. I hate when all the marinade (and the flavor) is left in the container you marinated in, instead of on the meat.

bringing shrimp up to temp

Here was the tricky part.  The shrimp was already cooked, and it’s really easy to over cook it, of course.  So to prevent tough, overdone shrimp, but also grill in that “mojo” I let the shrimp sit out on the counter for a few minutes to bring it up to room temperature.  I cranked up the burners below the grill pan to high.  What I was going for was a nice sear or grill marks on the outside…just a quick fire to change the flavor of the shrimp.  It only took a minute or two on each side.  (it’ll depend on the size of the shrimp you’re working with)

grilling shrimp

It was as easy as that!  I grabbed a nice pasta salad (also made with leftovers https://www.facebook.com/Cheftovers) from the fridge to accompany it.

pasta salad

Suddenly this meal was starting to feel like I was bringing the cook-out indoors.  The Mangia Mojo Dry Rub gave the shrimp cocktail a new personality, and it helped turn an appetizer into a satisfying supper.

mangia mojo shrimp skewers

mix one part