When I visit a restaurant that has both tasting menu and a la carte options, more often than not I go for the latter. It’s not just about economics (tasting menus tend to be more expensive, although in Europe I’ve learned that a la carte dishes are sometimes too prohibitively expensive that I end up deciding that I might as well just do the tasting menu). Tasting menu also deprives me of optionality; even if there were compelling dishes on the a la carte menu but not on the tasting menu, the restaurant typically doesn’t accommodate the request to make a change to the tasting menu to fit in those dishes. There are also times when going for a tasting menu makes sense, including where my wife Jun and I are in a group setting and ordering dishes a la carte would’ve taken forever. When we visited Chefs Club earlier this month with another couple, that’s exactly what happened. While I was certainly looking forward to what the “Spanish Experience” from the acclaimed chef Katie Button’s Cúrate was offering, it was more out of laziness plus eagerness to catch up with the couple that led us to go for the $95 per person tasting menu (and additional $25 per person to include roasted suckling pig). I wish we had taken some time to actually browse the menu and gone a la carte, especially for Spanish cuisine where you have many dishes ideal for sharing.
The beginning part of the tasting menu from Cúrate left quite favorable impressions at first. The jamon Ibérico was a standout dish to start the meal, as were the salt cod fritters that you can dip on the apple-honey aioli sauce. If I were to visit Ashville in North Carolina (where Cúrate is located), I would certainly come back for the fritters. The other small-plates dishes were generally solid too, such as the blood sausage with onions and goat cheese, fried bread crumbs with roasted Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, and grilled radicchio with romesco sauce underneath.
It was in the larger dishes portion where things started to go slightly downhill. The kitchen brought out two pork dishes, Ibérico pork with fresh rosemary and thyme as well as the suckling pig that was included in the $120 per person premium tasting menu. It ended up being a tale of two dramatically different dishes; while the Ibérico pork was quite capably prepared in terms of flavor and texture, Jun and I were shocked that the suckling pig retained the gamey flavor that we don’t like at all. I was also bummed after finding out later that one of the dishes I was looking forward to having, the paella-like rossejat dish with squid ink and shellfish, was not included in the tasting menu option. In any event, the suckling pig was a momentum killer in our meal, and things didn’t improve onward in the dessert menus. As part of the tasting menu, the kitchen brought all four dessert dishes that were available a la carte. Out of those four, only the gin and tonic flavored merengue was interesting and offered nice, refreshing flavor, and the others were more or less forgettable, especially the burnt Basque cheesecake with roasted strawberry compote that Jun (a cheesecake enthusiast) couldn’t find anything special about.
Getting a reservation for the Cúrate pop-up wasn’t too difficult and you are likely to secure last-minute seating if it’s not in the middle of prime time dinner. There is full bar with a variety of Spanish-centric wines on the wine list; I would’ve liked to see more variety of wines on the more affordable price range. On balance, I ended up giving 8.0 KenScale score thanks to all the deliciousness at the front end of the menu, but the experience at Cúrate’s Chefs Club left a lot to be desired, from execution and value standpoint. Jun and I certainly didn’t feel like we had a $95 per person menu in terms of the level of satisfaction. Perhaps we should’ve gone for the a la carte options that give us more freedom in what we want to eat.
KenScale: 8.0/10 (Jun’s Score: 7.75/10)
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 7.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 7.5/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
- Value: 7.5/10
Address: 275 Mulberry Street, New York, NY 10012
Telephone: (212) 941-1100