I love balls!
Meatballs, hushpuppies, fritters, falafel, doughnut holes… dippin’ dots… even gum balls, atomic fire balls, and other ball-shaped sweets, snacks, bites, and bits. Gimme a ball that I can put in my mouth, and I’m happy.
True story, you can ask my mom, the first word I ever said in my life: “Ball!”
And yes, Wiseguy, I have eaten actual balls, as in prairie oysters, and I quite enjoyed them, but this week my Eat of the Week is not so literal as that, and is in fact a deep-fried ball of yum that was impossibly creamy, exquisitely mushroomy, pleasingly earthy & nice. I ordered it at the soft opening / grand re-opening of the newly expanded Cúrate, which was a fun, swanky, sit-down dinner type of affair to celebrate the expansion.
Just in case you didn’t know: The folks at Cúrate have taken over the space next door (former location of Tutti Frutti frozen yogurt), and have been working hard for a few months to redesign, build-out, and integrate it with the original space. When things were close to completion, the restaurant closed down for two weeks, while they made the final connection, then — BOOM — it reopened right on schedule, resuming business as usual, only on a bigger, better, even more bustling basis than ever before. Go in soon and see for yourselves what a beautiful job they’ve done with the redesign and connection. They easily have twice as much space if not more, and Felix mentioned to me that they are going to try to keep one section “no reservations,” just for walk-ins! That’s exciting news for spontaneous diners like me! I also got to see the kitchen and coolers downstairs, which are big and totally bad-ass. The whole thing is really exciting, as Cúrate is one of Asheville’s most nationally recognized restaurants — and truly one of the best — and thus can be somewhat difficult to get into at times. Now, for a while anyways, it should be a little bit easier for everyone to get in and grab a tapas or two!
The soft-opening was one of those in which I was sent an email, with a set time and reservation for 2, rather than an open invite to show up between time X and time Y. Dawn was out of town, so I brought my nephew along, and we ordered from the regular menu, with table service, just like it would normally happen. No buffet. No fixed menu. None of that weirdness. Having a buffet-style opening for your sit-down style restaurant is counter-intuitive to me, because the attendees can’t properly judge the food, service, or atmosphere. To me the best kind of soft opening gives the eaters — a significant number of which are food writers and hard core foodies etc — a chance to experience the venue in the fashion in which it will actually function in the future.
I’m going to say with confidence that the soft opening at Cúrate was very much what one should expect during regular hours of operation, as in: Spot on, without fault, and entirely perfect on every level. For real, the food and service are the same quality as ever, only now there’s more of both! They’ve expanded the staff and menu, along with the space. The joint was hoppin’, with patrons galore, and staff running around all over the place. Sure, it was a party of sorts, but if I know Cúrate, it will be exactly that lively nearly every night from this point on.
Anyhoodles… let’s get back to these nice balls I ate. First of all, they are not perfect spheres, but more oblongy in shape. That’s okay. You may have noticed that not all balls are spherical. Here’s a picture of these beauties…
When I asked our server what was new on the menu, they pointed to a surprising number of things — 8 or 10 at least — and straight away, I ordered the creamy mushroom and béchamel fritters, or as they are called on the menu en Español, “Croquetas de setas.” They arrived shortly after, and they were so understated in appearance that my nephew and I kinda looked at each other like, is that all there is? I even remarked that they looked like they needed a “dippin’ sauce.”
Yeah. Because I know more stuff about cooking than Chef Katie Button.
Needless to say… these fuckin’ things did not need a “dippin’ sauce,” Stu Helm. Idiot.
I ate one croqueta, looked at my nephew, rolled my eyes, died a little bit and started to ascend to heaven, but then I roused myself back to life, just so I could eat the rest of my share of these gorgeous balls! After my second one, they instantly became my new favorite bite downtown, if not my actual favorite thing on Earth. I cracked the next one open, and placed it back on the plate before devouring it, in order to get a picture of the amazing contents for you guys…
These croquetas are so delicately breaded, that it seems almost impossible that the creamy-as-can-be contents would stay inside the light crispy coating, but the science is sound and the structure maintains its integrity right up until the point of impact with the teeth and lips. On the other side of the thin, bread-crumby shell, the flavors are subtly earthy, subdued yet solid, mellow yet memorable. I know it’s just a deep fried ball of mushrooms ‘n’ stuff, but I’m going to go ahead and use the word sublime here, because these fritters were sublime as fuck, Yo! I can’t wait to go back and get more.
Furthermore, the contents did not bloop out, all super-hot and mouth-burny like some sort of cruel little Hot Pocket, but instead were just warm enough to be comforting, and for the humble flavors of the mushroom and bechemel (which is a French / Italian sauce made from milk, flour, and butter) to be enhanced by, rather than over-powered by heat. I’m not talking about spice-heat here, these fritters were as mild as a child in terms of Scoville units, I’m talking about the actual Fahrenheits ‘n’ shit. Each bite was perfectly pleasantly warm. Not too hot. Not too cold. Juhhhhst right. Temperature is so important to the enjoyment of food.
So… yeah… what more can I say about these mushroom fritters? They were pretty basic, y’know, but still amazing and delicious. In the future, the croquetas offered on the Cúrate menu will change seasonally, and the kitchen has informed me that they have “chicken, jamón, and bacalao versions up our sleeves.” That’s great, and I’m sure those will be tasty too, but for now, I’m telling you, my fellow fans, go get these mushroom ones while they’re still on the menu! They are effing special, and awesome, and they won’t be around forever, but this week, they are my…
EAT OF THE WEEK!
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“Stylish eatery housed in a former 1927 bus depot offering elevated small plates, sherry & wine.”
Address: 13 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 239-2946
Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.
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