Location: Asheville, North Carolina
One of my darkest days in my cancer journey was when the Cisplatin (one of two chemo drugs I received intravenously and through a peritoneal port in my abdomen) peaked. From one moment to the next, I developed a metallic taste in my mouth and everything tasted like the inside of a Diet Coke can. In the scope of what was done to me, with major surgeries, the removal of body parts, and full days in the infusion room, this might not seem so bad. But it was devastating. Why? Because I love to eat. Food is such a source of enjoyment for me. I look forward to meals and dishes, either ones I have had before and can’t wait to eat again or new ones I’ve read or heard about that I can’t wait to try. I remember thinking that my good attitude would be sorely tested if the Big C thought it could come between me and food.
Luckily, the metallic taste did not last. And my love affair with good food got back on track. You might think that someone who loves to cook as much as I do wouldn’t be a huge fan of eating out, but that is not the case. I do love to make things from scratch and try new recipes or perfect old ones, and my skills in the kitchen are definitely one of my love languages. But I also enjoy dining in restaurants, a passion I have been able to indulge quite a bit on my travels. I keep notes in my phone of favorite restaurants and great spots I have found around the country and I have my favorite local haunts as well. One of my all-time favorites is Curate in Asheville, North Carolina. It is hard to go wrong in Asheville, with one yummy farm-to-table place after another offering up unbelievably tasty fare. But Curate, offering “elevated small plates” styled after a Tapas restaurant, is the one that tops my list.
It is insanely popular and it is hard to get a reservation unless you plan way in advance, but last night I was lucky enough to walk in and get a seat at the bar. It is not the kind of bar where they are making drinks (mildly interesting to observe when dining alone) but what they call kitchen bar seating where they are preparing many of the dishes you will be eating (hugely entertaining and fascinating). It is both exhilarating and exhausting watching everyone tend to his or her special area, whether it is assembling the potatas bravas that fly out to tables at record speed or grilling the octopus or drizzling sauce and zesting lemon over the finished dishes before they are served. It is a thing to behold, with a well-orchestrated dance that never ceases to amaze me whenever I get to watch a well-run restaurant kitchen do its thing.
I ordered the tomato bread, something I get every time. Sounds boring, and I would never have ordered it the first time without getting a visual of it being made. Thin slices of insanely good crispy bread are drizzled with top quality olive oil and topped with fresh, crushed tomatoes and course sea salt. That is it. But you should hear the sounds I make as I eat it! It is a testament to what a difference fresh, high quality ingredients make in the hands of folks who know what to do with them. And I am just so grateful that restaurants like this exist. I am always in awe of the dedication and hard work involved in churning out such good food and I am so glad people are willing to devote themselves – often at great personal sacrifice – to doing that.
I have had many good meals on my travels (and a few duds). Sitting at Curate, taking in the amazing smells, trying to pick up a few tips from the cooks at their stations of expertise, enjoying the visual of all of the beautiful food that was prepped right next to where I was sitting, and, best of all, giving my taste buds a treat with my own small plates (love that the portions encourage you to try several things), I felt so lucky. Eating out is something to appreciate in and of itself, and good restaurants that consistently provide memorable dining experiences every time you eat there – that gets an extra dollop of appreciation.
My Diet Coke toast was not just to the gratitude I felt for my scrumptious meal. I am so grateful that Eliza, who comes home this week, is doing so well and has made so much progress with her eating disorder. Enjoying food together as a family over the holidays will be all the sweeter knowing that Eliza has reclaimed her joy at the dinner table. We will indulge in our family traditions – hot cocoa on steroids, latkes, spaetzli and Christmas cookies – and we will head out to some of our favorite restaurants that the kids request whenever they come home. Whether we are sitting around our dining room table or squeezing into a booth at a restaurant, we will toast the good fortune that is served up in so many different ways.
To check out the menu or book a reservation: https://katiebuttonrestaurants.com/curate/